Kenya plans to adopt biological solutions to fight the fall armyworm that continues to ravage maize crop in many parts of the country.
To this end, researchers from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), are working on a pest to deal with the worm that is threatening the country’s food security.
“This pest is not going anywhere. It is now time to look for biological ways to reduce its impact,” noted Agriculture Chief Administrative Secretary Andrew Tuimur.
He recently led a team to Brazil on a mission to learn how the South American country has tackled the destructive pest, and how the measures they used can be applied to Kenyan farms.
“They have lived with the pest for 30 years and have been able to reduce infestation to two per cent without chemicals. We want to follow that path,” said Dr Tuimur.
He noted that farmers have to wait a little longer, since a biological pest to tackle armyworm is scheduled for release ahead of the next planting season.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) estimates that up to 50 per cent of maize crop could be destroyed by armyworm.
Currently, most farmers rely on chemicals to manage the pest, but overuse of pesticides may expose consumers to health risks.
Two weeks ago, Kalro released a list of effective chemicals which have been approved to be used by farmers to control the pest.
They include Voliam Targo 063SC, Match 50EC, Prove 1.92EC, Profen 1.92EC, Carogen 20SC and Othene pelle.
Kalro Head of Crop Health Zackary Kinyua told Healthy Nation that the organisation was researching the most effective natural enemy of the fall armyworm to help tame it.
“The team has already collected eggs and larvae samples and is working to come up with parasites that will consume armyworms. It is still early, but we will inform the public as soon as we are done with the research,” said Dr Kinyua.
Egg and larva parasites or parasitoids have been used for biological control of armyworm in maize, sorghum and vegetables in South American countries such as Honduras, Brazil and Venezuela.
One particular egg parasite called Telenomus remus has been credited with reducing worm populations wherever it has been introduced.
The female armyworm that lays up to 2,000 eggs in its life-cycle has been reported in a number of counties and is posing serious threat to the country’s food security.
And although the pest is reportedly resistant to some chemicals in countries such as Brazil, Kenyan researchers say it is too early to reach similar conclusions locally.
“This pest has been here for one and half years and resistance to pesticides has not been reported. However, in some cases the chemicals are effective, while in others, they are not.
“It depends on how farmers spray the pesticide. If you spray when the sun is bright, the pest is not killed because it hides inside,” explained Dr Kinyua.
Trans Nzoia County Agriculture Executive Mary Nzomo said that infestation in the country’s food basket stands at 10 per cent.
“Without intervention, infestation could go as high as 50 per cent. But we are prepared to tackle the problem because we are no longer doing guesswork.
“We know which chemicals to use. But we are also advising farmers not to overuse chemicals,” said Ms Nzomo, the chairperson of the Agriculture County Executives forum.
She noted that last season maize worth Sh2 billion was lost to the pest and called for combined efforts between counties and national government to tackle the destructive armyworm.
Last season, Trans Nzoia County spent Sh43 million to procure and distribute chemicals to farmers and for surveillance.
Uasin-Gishu County Governor Jackson Mandago and Moiben Member of Parliament Sila Tiren recently asked the national government to increase funds to more than the Sh50 million that had been allocated to fight armyworm.
Members of the parliamentary Agriculture Committee led by Mr Tiren said that Sh1 billion is needed to tackle the pest.
Governor Mandago noted that should necessary measures not be taken on time to curb the spread of the pest, there would be poor maize harvests this season.