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‘How we can tackle Armyworm’

Inusa Ahmed Kabo is a lecturer, Pest Management Technology Programme, Samaru College of Agriculture, Division of Agricultural Colleges, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and a PhD candidate in the field of Pest Management. He talked exclusively to Daily Trust on Sunday on the menace of Fall Armyworm, an invasive pest that attacks wide variety of crops and is very devastating to cereals, especially maize and sorghum.

 

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Will you say Nigeria is responding well to the Fall Armyworm menace?

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Fall Armyworm is an invasive pest that attacks many types of crops. It is very devastating to cereals, especially maize and sorghum in Nigeria. The moth is grey-brown in colour. However, the larva, which is the destructive stage is greenish when young, and turns brownish when matured.

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It is a moth that belongs to the Lepidopteran order. It is the larval stage (worm) of the moth that causes damage to crops.

Where did Fall Armyworm originate from?

The moth is indigenous to the Americas. It is found in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, USA and Canada.

When and how did it get to Nigeria?

The insect was first reported in Nigeria in 2016, precisely in January in some farms around Ibadan, Oyo State. From there it spread to other parts of the country. At present the pest can be found in almost all the areas where maize is cultivated in Nigeria. And it is found on both the rain-fed and irrigated maize crops.

What are the damage symptoms?

It is the larva that causes all the damage on maize. It feeds on the leaves and the whorl of the plant, thereby destroying its growing point. This feeding activity makes the leaves look ragged. It also feeds on the tassels and the ear. In the cobs the larva also feeds on the kernels. Feeding may lead to up to 70% loss in yield of maize if no management measure is taken.

What is the success rate recorded by local farmers against the pest?

Unfortunately, the pest came as a surprise to the farmers in Nigeria. Unlike some of their counterparts in some African countries, like Kenya, Nigerian farmers were not well sensitized about the menace of the insect. So when it appeared on their farms they resorted to the usual method of applying chemicals to control it. Unfortunately, most of the chemical sprays did not yield any positive result. So the farmers were left at the mercy of the pest.

How would you rate response by government?

Government, especially at the federal level in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, had put some measures on ground to tackle the pest. Some states were selected where seeds, insecticides and pheromone traps were given to farmers through various states ADPs. However, I don’t know much about the area of research funding, which is very crucial.

What is your suggestion to local farmers on ways to manage the pest?

Managing the pest can be achieved through preventive and curative measures. First and foremost farmers should always plant good, quality seeds. They should also plant early. Studies have shown that maize that is planted early faced reduced attack when compared to the one planted late.

Farmers can also reduce attack by the pest when they intercrop their maize with certain crops. Unpublished preliminary studies in Samaru, Zaria, show that intercropping cowpea or soybean in maize field reduces the incidence and severity of the pest attack.

When an attack is noticed in their farms, farmers can hand-pick and destroy the eggs and larvae of the insect. Usually one larva is found on one plant. So these larvae can easily be picked and destroyed. Sand, wood ashes and sometimes, ground pepper can be placed in the funnel of the plant. Most mature larvae migrate to the funnels before pupation. When this method is used, the material will cover the larvae and thereby kill it.

Another method that may be used by the local farmers is spraying chemicals. However, farmers should be careful of the type of chemicals they use. They should always use less persistent chemicals and use protective cloths when spraying.

What is your advice to government on tackling the Fall Armyworm recurring menace?

The Federal Government should set aside more funds for research in the area of pest management. Researches should be carried out at various agro-ecological zones of the country. This will help in formulating acceptable Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programmes for the country, with each suited to an agro-ecological zone.

Priority should be on researches that emphasize on non-chemical management methods. This will go a long way in meeting some of the goals set by United Nations in its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda.

Also, there is need to come up with some chemicals that are relatively safer to be used by local farmers. Many countries, even in Africa, have already listed some chemicals that can be used by local farmers against Fall Armyworm. Ironically, this is yet to be done in Nigeria. Our quest for self-sufficiency in food production will be a mirage if drastic action is not taken on the menace of this invasive insect pest.

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