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Rural poverty, food insecurity on the rise due to the spread of fall armyworm in East Africa

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Agriculture remains the main source of income in most of the African economies. It offers over 60% of jobs across the continent. However, the sector is now threatened by the rapid spread of Fall Army Worm, Joseph Coompson, who is the Regional Manager, for African Development Bank Group said on Thursday in Nairobi.

Speaking during the Controlling Fall Army Worm in East Africa forum Coompson said many rural African families are now being pushed further into poverty and food insecurity due to Fall Army Worm infestation.

“Africa’s food security is being threatened by the growing Fall Army Worm problem,” Coompson said.

He stressed that without an urgent action plan, Africa’s food and nutrition security will be at risk. He added that East African countries depend on maize as their staple food, yet this is the main host of Fall Army Worm.

Fall Army Worm is a plant pest with larvae being the most destructive stage that attacks over 80 plant species.

The pest is dispersed by wind and it can lay up to six generations of up to 50 eggs in one location. It cannot easily be detected since it burrows inside maize stems and cobs.

A recent research reports that FAW could cause between 21-53% maize yield losses in just 12 African countries within 5 years. This makes it difficult for Africa to feed itself since half of its harvest get lost to pests and diseases.

Ali Nur Duale, the regional coordinator from Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said FAW is presently the biggest threat to farmers with the potential to continue spreading geographically and to other crops. Moreover, FAW is now present in all Sub Saharan African countries except Djibouti, Eritrea and Lesotho.

Despite the rapid spread, various strategic actions have already been put in place to deal with this agricultural menace.

The East African Community, for example, has responded to this threat by setting up a regional task force on the FAW and other transboundary crop approaches.

“Under the EAC SPS framework, the draft EAC SPS Bill addresses plant health, animal health and food safety with the objective of promoting trade and activities at the national and regional level,” said David Wafula of EAC.

He added that the task force on the FAW will be created with membership drawn from national task forces on FAW to strengthen coordination, share knowledge on technologies for control and best practices for up scaling. This will be achieved through a regional action to be developed by the regional task force.

With support from USAID Kenya, EAC has come up with guidelines for registration of pesticides which offer opportunities for joint testing and registration of pesticides to reduce the time and costs associated with the same. “This will contribute towards accelerated introduction and deployment of pesticides that can help in FAW management in the EAC partner states,” said Wafula.

He also said small-scale farmers need urgent economically viable and effective management practices.

Through the African Development Bank’s Technologies for Africa Agriculture Transformation (TAAT) strategy, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other agricultural research organizations, private sectors and the public are also in the process of identifying new technological practices that can be deployed to millions of African farmers to fight the FAW hiccup. FAO has stated its regional response by coming up with projects worth $2million budget for funding these projects.

The private sector players present at the forum also called upon all farmers to adopt improved maize hybrids with FAW resistance and other adaptive traits. In addition, they also insisted on the use of digital tools for FAW control and the need for building more plant clinics across the region to issue health advice to farmers on plant health.

 

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