What is Fall Armyworm?
Fall Armyworm (FAW) is a chronic pest in Eastern and Southern Africa and can cause severe damage to grass and forage crops. Its scientific name is derived from its feeding habits Spodotera frugiperda. The damage varies in appearance and severity according to the type of grass and management practices. The pest can wreak havoc on crops if left to multiply.
Research has shown that the Fall Armyworm has a desirous appetite and feeds on more than 80 plant species, including maize, sorghum, peanut, soybean, millet, rice, vegetable crops, among other. The worm can reproduce and spread quickly given the right environmental conditions. Though fall armyworms can damage corn plants in nearly all stages of its development, it will concentrate on later plantings that have not yet silked.
The Fall Army worm feeds superficially on one side of the leaf and the young worm caterpillar uses ballooning (spread by wind on a thread of silk)) to spread to new host plants. One worm egg batch contains many eggs for one plant and ballooning always occurs soon after hatching.
The Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Co-ordinator, Roger Day, at the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International, estimated that FAW would cause damage worth about $3bn to Africa’s maize crop over the next 12 months, if proper measures are not put in place.
Feeding can kill the growing point in maize and larger larvae can bore into the developing cobs. The caterpillars usually hide deep in the plant foliage during the day but emerge at night to feed on the leaf.
It is crucial to develop coherent mechanisms to contain the devastation that FAW can cause.
The regular monitoring of the fields for early detection is relevant, Extension officers should assist farmers to detect the signs and symptoms of Faw, one week after the crops germinate because controlling becomes easy at the early stage.
The head of the FAW is yellow, gray, or brown with a predominant white, inverted Y-shaped suture on the front. Farmers must look out for parasitized larvae having elongated white balls, which are usually near the back of the worm’s head.
Insecticides must be applied directly into the funnel of foliage of the plant at the early developmental stages of the larvae and the nozzle for effective control. Fall armyworm will often form a ‘plug’ with their frass in the foliage making it difficult for insecticide penetration. Ground sprays directly over the row are, therefore, more effective than the general sprays.
Safer Garden Dust is a highly selective biological pesticide containing Bacillus thuringiensis to control leaf-eating caterpillars and worms. After ingesting a treated portion of the leaf, caterpillars stop feeding within a few hours.
The situation in Ghana and efforts by Government to curtail FAW
In Ghana FAW was first reported in the Yilo Krobo district of the eastern region in 2016.
Government, through the Ministry of Food Agriculture, has responded with a budget of GHS16 Million to fight the plague.
The Minister for Food and Agriculture (MoFA), Dr Afriyie Akoto, has indicated that chemicals have since been procured and delivery made to a number of local agrochemical firms across the breath and length of the country as at 18th of July, 2017.
And, as a matter of urgency, the Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Directorate (PPRSD) in Collaboration with the Centre for Agriculture Biosciences International (CABI) and other stakeholders, in April 2017, developed a short to medium and long term plan for managing the pest.
Training of workers on early detection and management of FAW for staff drawn from each district through the country has also been carried out.
MoFA, in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development, (USAID) procured 1,000 knapsacks for the three northern regions and has also provided training for their usage.
A special taskforce of 16 members was constituted by Dr Afriyie Akoto, on May 10, 2017 comprising experts from MoFA, other Ministries, and as well as development partners and other stakeholders to work in collaboration towards the eradication of the Fall armyworm. The taskforce., since its inauguration, has completed a number of tasks towards the management of the worm, including the identification of a number of chemical (biological and synthetic) base on their mode of action that are capable of killing the FAW.
The task force was assigned to co-ordinate sensitization and awareness of farmers on the detection of FAW to enable them report to MoFA. Other duties include surveillance and monitoring, implementation of prevention and control measures against FAW, research for long-term measures to combat the pest by using biological control and sourcing for resources for short and long-term strategies to combat the pest.
Specific Activities undertake by MoFA
The Minister for Agriculture has submitted a memorandum to cabinet for approval of an emergency budgetary release of GHS 15,857,280.00 to carry out a number of activities including training of staff for early detection, collaboration and co-ordination, sensitization, developing and printing of fact sheets, surveillance at community and national levels, monitoring of control and management activities and the procurement of a strategic stock of insecticides, among others, (credit; Daily Democrat, Monday 17th July center page).
The Ministry has so far procured 72,774 liters of liquid pesticides and 4, 320 milligrams of powered pesticides for application of in the affected areas.
By Bagbara Tanko (PRO MoFA)