12 December 2017
Breaking News

Are farmers ready to battle fall army worm?

Written by  Vincent Khonje

Kasungu, November 14, 2017: In mid-January this year, Brighton Zimba, a farmer from Kasungu’s Chipala Extension Planning Area (EPA) noticed some strange feeding behavior on maize plants in his field. 

Zimba had other pests in his mind despite the destruction of this particular pest.

"We usually have pests that cause us problems like stock borers, this was a different experience,” says Zimba.

The nightmare that Zimba faced for a better part of last farming season was a new phenomenon of a pest which left others worried too; Fall Army Worm (FAW).

Native to the tropical-subtropical western hemisphere, from United States of America to Argentina FAW is a new pest in Malawi.

It was first spotted in Nigeria in January 2016 and mystery surrounds how it was found there.

Early this year, farmers in Malawi faced this pest as it spread in their maize crop fields across the country.

Kasungu Chipala EPA had half of the crops attacked by the mysterious worm.

 “This area was one of the worst affected. The bad thing was that most farmers didn’t know that this was a new pest altogether and it was initially difficult for us to give out proper information.” explains James Maduka, Agricultural Extension Development Officer (AEDO) for the EPA.

Maduka adds that it was a difficult situation as information about the pest was also coming in bits and pieces.

Mtunthama EPA’s AEDO Hellen Maona echoes Maduka’s sentiments.

“Initially, the farmers didn’t know what to do as the worms wrecked havoc to the extent of damaging the whole stem,

“They resorted in experimenting on every pesticide they had. It worked for some,” she says.

The available solution was a pesticide called Cypermethrin, which proved to be effective in controlling FAW. Sadly, it was always in short supply.

 “The effectiveness of Cypermethrin saw demand being high while supply was low,” explains Maduka.

Now there is need to solve the puzzle on FAW.

For extension workers they feel that much as there can be some solutions information is vital.

The AEDOs lament that information on FAW is not easily available and some extension workers have no clear idea about this new pest.

“The messages that came on FAW were in English and most farmers had problems to grasp them.

Since there are a few extension workers, information has to go to lead farmers too,” says Maduka.

There is great news in that Malawi is said to be doing very good in dealing with FAW.

Dr. George Phiri is assistant representative of Food Agriculture Organization responsible for programmes in Malawi. He says that Malawi is considered to be ahead in its efforts to eliminate the pest.

“Because of our response plan and partnership Malawi is considered ahead and currently there are seven known insecticides that have proven to be effective,” says Dr. Phiri, who has vast expertise in FAW.

However, pesticides world over have also been blamed for various reasons like being negative to the environment, becoming resistant, causing imbalance in the ecosystem and being of high cost.

Dr. Phiri says that the future of FAW control lies in Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

IPM, a process used to solve pest problems while minimizing risks to people and the environment, is an ecosystem based strategy that focuses on long term prevention of pests or their damage through a combination of techniques such as biological control, habitat manipulation and modification of cultural practices.

“Some of IPM include agronomic based reduction of FAW where crops are planted early before pests build up; biological based reduction where natural enemies—predators, parasites, pathogens, and competitors- are used to control pests and also plant based where botanical insecticides and indigenous substances are used,” he says.

Dr. Phiri, however, feels for IPM to work there is need for the knowledge to be passed on to farmers.

IPM, among other interventions, has received a huge backing from experts as one of the safer ways to deal with FAW.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development has also been on the pedal promoting use of IPM.

Recently, controller of agriculture extension and technical services in the ministry Dr. Albert Changaya released a progress report on interventions undertaken and those yet to be undertaken in dealing with pest.

IPM emerged as the chief intervention.

 “DARS is planning to conduct a study to determine the biology and behavior of the fall armyworm in the local environment and develop locally adapted IPM strategies,” says Dr. Changaya.

However, with the exploration of IPM still going on, experts are still recommending the use of some pesticides in the immediate term to have farmers prepared in advance.

According to Changaya, farmers will have a choice on Steward EC, Cypermethrin 20EC, Belt 480EC, Deltanex 25EC, Bulldock EC, Chlorpyrifos EC, Karate EC, Match fit and Decis forte.

For extension workers who complained about messages being in English, a language which most farmers would have problems understanding, they now have an easy task with reference materials.

“The ministry has produced and translated FAW factsheet in English and Chichewa and it has translated brochures into Tumbuka/Chichewa languages,” explains Dr Changaya.

The rainy season is already here as some areas have already received the early rains, but to the farmers the memories of last year’s damage are still fresh.

The good thing is that farmers know what they are to face again but have they assembled better weaponry than last year?

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