SADC ill-prepared to deal with armyworm

Source: SADC ill-prepared to deal with armyworm | The Financial Gazette February 23, 2017

THE outbreak of the fall armyworm has caught southern African countries flat-footed with most member States still to ascertain the full extent of the invasion, let alone present a plan of action, the Financial Gazette can report.
Despite warnings given before the start of the summer season about invasive pests and plant diseases descending on southern Africa, the region did not take heed.
A report issued last October by the International Association for the Plant Protection Sciences said the risk that the fall armyworm could pose to crop production in Africa could amount to US$400 million if not addressed on time.
The fall armyworm infestation has affected at least seven countries in the region.
In South Africa, it has already torched a political storm with the opposition Democratic Alliance accusing the government of President Jacob Zuma of being “unacceptably slow to respond” to the outbreak.
Southern Africa is currently the epicentre of the fall armyworm outbreak, with scientists suggesting that the caterpillar or its eggs may have reached the continent through imported grain.
In Zimbabwe, up to 130 000 hectares of maize could be affected.
Incidences of fall armyworm invasion have been reported in all the country’s 10 provinces. The pest’s damage varies and depends on the stage of the maize crop, the area and rainfall received in preceding days.
At the moment, countrywide pest damage assessments are in progress.
Zambia has reported that almost 90 000 hectares have been affected, forcing farmers to replant their crops.
In Malawi, some 17 000 hectares have so far been invaded by the worms, while in Namibia, approximately 50 000 hectares of maize and millet have been damaged.
In Brazil, where the fall armyworm is endemic, the government there spends in excess of US$600 million each year to try to control infestations.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has noted that the majority of countries in the region are either still in the early stages of full assessment studies or do not have the resources to do so.
During a recent meeting of 16 east and southern African countries in Harare on emerging high impact trans-boundary pests such as the fall armyworm as well as crop and livestock diseases, a representative from FAO said reports presented by affected countries pointed to the need for more refined assessments using standardised protocols across the region to enable accurate quantification of the problem.
“Critical areas that need immediate attention are assessments on the spread and distribution, damage and resultant losses at household, national and regional levels. Discussions during this meeting have identified gaps in our current early warning systems, response, preparedness, contingency planning, including information dissemination and effective regional coordination,” said FAO’s sub-regional coordinator for southern Africa, David Phiri.
FAO is ready to assist any country if approached.
Sub-Saharan countries have been urged to urgently begin disease surveillance and set up early warning systems, review procedures, take stock of supplies and protective equipment, and simulate scenarios of how the outbreak would progress.
These measures will serve to mobilise the required resources, including human expertise and funding.
Countries were also encouraged to roll-out awareness campaigns, targeting farmers, extension workers and other concerned parties.
FAO has initiated the process of procuring pheromone insect lure traps used for capturing armyworm and monitoring their spread.
Phiri does not expect the fall armyworm to severely diminish expected harvests in Zimbabwe but he says that like other pests of their kind, the insect is here to stay and will be too costly for the government to manage if it keeps on spreading.
Once established in an area, the adult moths can fly for long distances and spread rapidly.
The fall armyworm eats its way through most of the vegetation in its path as it marches through crops.
It is native to North and South America, but was identified in Africa for the first time last year.
“Experience has shown that wherever the pest has been, particularly this fall armyworm, it never leaves. There is very little hope that southern Africa is going to eradicate it in the short-term,” said Phiri.
A SADC representative at the meeting, Esaiah Tjelele, acknowledged the difficulties countries are experiencing.
“Due to the complexity of the infestation and gaps in technical capacities, countries are still struggling to make assessments on the damage that has so far been caused. Pest identification services are also inadequate in some of the countries, hence delaying response action”.


  • comment-avatar
    Joe Cool 5 years ago

    “Complexity in infestation”? “Struggling to assess damage”? “Gaps in technical capacities”? “Inadequate pest identification services”?

    All this mystery for something long and narrow, on numerous legs, that “eats its way through most of the vegetation in its path as it marches through crops”?

  • comment-avatar
    jongwe 5 years ago

    put together potential funders with a pechant for apathetic academic discourse, governments with inclinations for politically infantile rhetoric couched in economically bankrupt policies,then you have a collosal recipe for non activity! If you tell the latter that a serious threat is not yet a worrisome threat how do you expect them to prioritise the clear and present danger? I conclude that these funders are leaders in procrastinations and should be action people not this preponderance on finding and closing gaps-academic twaddle if i may say so