Maize farmers in Nigeria are worried over the invasion of a pest called Fall Army Worm (FAW) that attacks their farms and destroys farm produce. Many farmers are already pleading with the authorities to find a solution to the annual calamity which causes them billion in losses. These attacks occur during both the rainy and irrigated farming seasons.
The destructive worm is a larval stage of the Fall Armyworm, a moth whose biological name is Spodoptera frugiperda. It was first detected in Central and West Africa in 2016 and has now spread to most of Sub-Saharan Africa. Its presence was confirmed in India and Yemen last year, partly due to trade and the moth’s strong flying ability. This insect is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas and authorities there have found various methods to checkmate it.
In the absence of natural control or good management, it can cause significant damage to crops, as it is doing in Nigeria. It prefers maize but can feed on 80 other crops including rice, sorghum, millet, sugarcane, vegetables and cotton. John Tezugar, a renowned maize farmer in Garam, Niger State, said he lost over 80 per cent of his farm to the worm in 2018. Unless something is done about it, he said, he might not farm maize again this year.
Alhaji Bello Abubakar, National President, Maize Association of Nigeria said the army worm invaded many farmlands in 12 states last year, wreaking havoc on all the farms. The twelve states included Katsina, Kaduna, Jigawa, Kwara, Osun, Enugu, Yobe, Plateau and Niger, with millions of tonnes expected maize produce destroyed by the worms. Abubakar described the attack as a major challenge facing efforts to achieve food security in the country, since many farmers were losing most of their produce to the pest.
In December last year, the Federal Government inaugurated a 23-member National Task Force on Fall Armyworm Management and Control. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Chief Audu Ogbeh inaugurated the committee at the launching of Goldmax Total Crop Protection Pesticide in Abuja. He said the event was historic as Nigeria launched one of its own control strategies and instituted a structure to curb the devastating effect of the worm. The minister said, “The pest attacks maize crop in all the states of the federation both during wet season and irrigated maize farms. The FAW could reduce maize crop yield by more than 50 per cent thereby increasing the already existing gap between supply and demand for maize grains, causing serious threat to food security.”
Chief Ogbeh applauded the effort of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture of Organisation (FAO) in providing support for controlling and managing the Fall Armyworm pest through the Technical Cooperation Project in 12 states of the federation which include Abia, Borno, Ekiti, Osun, Kwara, Ondo, Oyo, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Jigawa and FCT. We commend the minister and other partners for coming together to address the menace but feelers from farmers in the affected states indicate that the effort leaves much to be desired. It is one thing to launch a programme with pomp and pageantry, but it would take a serious commitment to ensure that the target audience benefit from the initiative. Unless tangible benefits are seen, the farmers would lose faith in it and could abandon maize farming altogether.
Africa produces 6.5 per cent of the world’s maize while Nigeria is the largest African producer with nearly 8 million tons a year, followed by South Africa. Maize is cooked in various ways and millions of Africans rely on this crop because it usually costs less than wheat and rice and other common grains and cereals. Many daily diets would not be possible without maize. A lot of animal products such as eggs, meat and milk production depend on maize because this ingredient is used to feed animals. Government must therefore rise to the challenge in order to protect our cultivation of this all-important crop.