Editor’s note: Occasionally we share stories through our global partnerships. This one is produced by Rhoda Msiska from the Voice of Livingstonia in Malawi.
By Rhoda Msiska
Agricultural authorities doubt if Malawi will ever wipe out a fall armyworm outbreak.
Researchers say that the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) is an insect larvae that feeds on more than 80 plant species that include maize, rice, sorghum, sugarcane, vegetables and cotton. It has a voracious appetite and reproduces and spreads quickly, given the right environmental conditions. The adult moths are about 1.25 inches to 1.5 inches wing tip to wing tip, with a brown or gray forewing and a white hind wing.
More than 17,000 hectares of maize in Malawi have been damaged, a development which poses a great risk to the country’s drive for food security.
Since late 2016, the fall armyworm has spread across much of sub-Saharan Africa. It has been officially identified in 11 countries and is suspected in at least 14 others.
It is imperative that government partner with stakeholders to develop new strategies to control the pest and to do research, said Tonny Maulana, a member of the Committee of Trainers in the Southern Africa Development Community-SADC.
The Committee of Trainers includes agricultural stakeholders and researchers from different countries who propose different interventions to contain the outbreak.
Maulana, an entomologist who is also on the taskforce to manage the fall armyworm in Malawi, said government failed to contain the outbreak during the last farming season – a development he said that has contributed to the further spread of the pest.
“We can only manage the outbreak, but doing away with it completely remains a farfetched dream,” said Maulana, who is also the deputy director of agricultural research services at Lunyangwa Research Station.
The development department for the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian in the synod of Livingstonia, has since announced an armyworm study in the Rumphi District in northern Malawi. It will evaluate the effectiveness of conservation agriculture in controlling the pest.
Conservation agriculture is a set of soil management practices that minimize the disruption of the soil’s structure, composition and natural biodiversity. It has the potential to improve crop yields and the long-term environmental and financial sustainability of farming.
The study will examine how the fall armyworm responds to moisture retention and soil fertility promoted by these practices.
The fall armyworm has been reported across Africa. Local reports indicate that more than 17,000 hectares of maize has been affected in Malawi alone.
More than 83 percent of Malawi’s population resides in rural areas and depends on subsistence farming, according to the 2008 population and housing census.
Rhoda Msiska is a reporter with the Voice of Livingstonia, a northern Malawi radio station with more than 4 million listeners.