How smallholder farms can sustainably manage the Fall Army Worm
Millions of farmers in East Africa today are facing the threat of the Fall Army Worm (FAW) presently in Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Ethiopia and Rwanda.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations Organisation, (FAO), the FAW was first detected in the Central and Western parts of Africa in early 2016 and is now reported in almost all of Sun-Saharan Africa except Djibouti, Eritrea and Lesotho.
As such, FAO developed a guide titled, “Integrated Management of the Fall AmyWorm on Maize” which details methods farmers can use to sustainably manage the FAW.
By using high quality seeds, farmers are in position to manage the level of damage the FAW could have on their maize since good pest management is dependent on healthy seeds. High quality seeds tend to germinate well and are disease free.
Late planting or staggered planting i.e plots with maize at different stages is one of the factors that increase FAW infestations because when looking for where to lay its eggs, the female moth i.e. adult FAW is attracted to the last planted maize on the plot.
Farmers should therefore ensure all plots are at the same growth stage to help manage the FAW.
Plant diversity or mixed farming if fully embraced by farmers as a management method, goes a long way in managing the FAW. Maize mixed in plots with cassava, yams or any other crops tends to be less attractive to the Female moth which lays eggs.
Plant diversity also helps to increase the population farmers’ friends i.e. predators like ants and parasitoids like wasps which feed on the FAW eggs and larvae.
The push and pull method which also helps in managing the FAW is only attainable through mixed farming. It works in such a way that within the plant diversity, some of the plants pull the moth to themselves or push them away hence limiting the damage it could cause to the maize.
To attain this, a farmer is advised to plant alongside the maize, Desmodium and grasses like Napier. Desmodium planted in-between the rows of maize acts as a repellant which pushes the moth away while wild grasses like Napier planted around the maize field attracts the moths, pulling them to their side hence managing the level of infestation of the FAW on the maize.
Most farmers also fail to manage the FAW because they rarely visit their farms to see the health of their crops.
Constant monitoring of one’s garden either weekly or every three to four days helps farmers to observe what is happening to their maize and there after take the appropriate action.
While monitoring the garden, it is important that farmers look out for the general health of the maize i.e. if they have a nice green color which indicates good nutrition, or if they appear moisture stressed or if there are signs of damage from the FAW or other pests and diseases.
Small holder farmers have reported successful use of local methods such as soil, ash, sand, lime, salt, oil, hot pepper, neem etc other than pesticides to control FAW.
For more information on integrated management of the Fall Army Worm, visit http://www.fao.org/3/I8665EN/i8665en.pdf.