CIMMYT maize breeder Thokozile Ndhlela (left, and farmer Otilia Chirova of Mutoko district in Mashonaland East province, identifying the fall armyworm in Chirova’s field in February. Chirova eventually lost almost half of her entire maize crop. Photo: J. Siamachira/CIMMYT.
Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe’s rural areas have grown maize for years both as a staple and as a resource to boost their economy.
However, Zimbabwean farmers rely predominately on rain-fed maize farming, making each planting season a gamble with nature as poor rainfall, pests and diseases constantly threaten this staple crop and farmer livelihoods.
As most smallholders tried to recover from the El Niño-induced drought in southern Africa, affecting 40 million people during the 2015-2016 farming season, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, nothing could have prepared them for the sudden invasion of the fall armyworm in September 2016 that caused irreversible damage on their maize crop.
The recent appearance of the fall armyworm, an insect-pest that causes damage to more than 80 crop species in 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, poses a serious challenge and significant risk to the region’s food security.
In a recent interview, Dr B.M. Prasanna, director of the Global Maize Program, CIMMYT and the CGIAR Research Program on MAIZE, who is working at the forefront of CGIAR’s response, highlights the potential impact of the pest and how CGIAR researchers are contributing to a quick and coordinated response across the region.