By: Carolyn Cowan and Jennifer Johnson
A fall armyworm found on maize plants in Khamman district, Telangana state, India. Photo: ICAR-Indian Institute of Maize Research
The fall armyworm (FAW), Spodoptera frugiperda, a devastating insect-pest, has been identified for the first time on the Indian subcontinent. Native to the Americas, the pest is known to eat over 80 plant species, with a particular preference for maize, a main staple crop around the world. The fall armyworm was first officially reported in Nigeria in West Africa in 2016, and rapidly spread across 44 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Sightings of damage to maize crops in India due to fall armyworm mark the first report of the pest in Asia.
A new comprehensive integrated pest management (IPM)-based technical guide produced by international experts will help scientists, extension agents and farmers to tackle the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), which has rapidly spread across the African continent in the last two years, decimating maize crops in its path.
“Fall Armyworm in Africa: A Guide for Integrated Pest Management,” jointly produced by Feed the Future, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE), provides tips on fall armyworm identification as well as technologies and practices for effective control.
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.