The Southern Africa fall armyworm stakeholders’ meeting which was held in Johannesburg this month ended with a call for increased investment and stronger coordination and partnerships in responding to the pest.
The meeting was organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to discuss the regional fall armyworm response actions, lessons learnt, challenges and preparedness plans for the 2017/18 production season.
Representatives of SADC Member States, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), donors, development partners, farmers’ organizations, academia and research organizations observed that since the fall armyworm had established itself on the continent and in the region, there was no other option than to manage it effectively and sustainably.
Member States and stakeholders were challenged to make strong commitments by allocating more funding, developing programmes and putting in place infrastructure for the management of the fall armyworm and other emerging and re-emerging crop pests and diseases with potential to cause food insecurity in the region.
“Given its adaptability and tenacious nature, many experts believe that the pest will continue building its momentum and impact on food security in the region in the coming seasons and years to come. We have, however, an opportunity to prevent this threat from reaching disastrous proportions, by building the resilience of farmers and institutions to this pest”, said David Phiri, the FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa.
Phiri said despite the efforts made so far to manage the fall armyworm infestation in the region; there were still many issues that needed to be addressed to reach the desired scale in terms of protecting the food security and livelihoods of populations at risk from the pest.
The meeting identified funding gaps with respect to farmer education and awareness, monitoring and surveillance, impact assessment, research, as well as rolling out of pest management options.
“There is, therefore, an urgent need to support governments in the region with financial resources to ensure effective management of the fall armyworm in southern Africa,” said Phiri.
All Southern Africa mainland countries except Lesotho are infested with the fall armyworm. The pest has also been confirmed in the island states of Madagascar and Seychelles, leaving only Mauritius untouched.
Stakeholders had undertaken a number of response actions, including distribution of pesticides, research, surveillance and monitoring and training of extension officers and farmers, and raising awareness of relevant stakeholders. These efforts had enabled countries to establish response mechanisms at national and regional levels, and salvage some of the 2016/17 harvests.
Although experts have taken a cautious approach on the results from some impact studies during the 2016/17 cropping season on account of methodological consensus and refinement issues, some countries reported damage estimates. For example, 27 000 hectares of crops in Botswana, 138 000 hectares in Malawi, 23 000 hectares in Namibia, over 280 000 hectares in Zambia and 1.5 million hectares in Zimbabwe suffered some damage by the fall armyworm.
Though the initial response to the infestation was largely the application of synthetic pesticides, stakeholders were testing other technologies such as conservation agriculture and “push and pull” – a strategy for controlling agricultural pests by using repellent “push” plants and trap “pull” plants that had shown positive results. The stakeholders recommended more research into these technologies, as well as cultural management practices that have the potential to control the armyworms without harming the plants, humans or the environment.
“If the fall armyworm is here to stay, we need to come up with long-term management options to deal with the pest,” said Kelly Toole, Climate Change Adviser, United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID).
Coordination and partnership
The meeting re-affirmed the need for stronger coordination and partnerships in the fight against the fall armyworm and other transboundary pests and diseases in the region.
Esaiah Tjelele, representing the SADC Secretariat acknowledged the coordinated response by stakeholders in the region since the fall armyworm was first detected a year ago, saying it has enabled the region to put in place mechanisms for responding to the infestation.
“Despite the progress made, the threat to food security and livelihood is still present. We need to work together”, he said.
Participants at the meeting called for a coordinated regional approach in research and development, capacity building, policy formulation, phytosanitary measures and communication.
“Through collaboration, we will be able to build a sound and resilient biosecurity system for the region and the continent at large,” said Mpho Sekgala, Deputy Director in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, South Africa.
The meeting observed that pesticide management was still a challenge in the region, especially among smallholder farmers. It also agreed that the use of synthetic pesticides should only be used as a last resort, and only if they are safe to humans and the environment and are effective in controlling the fall armyworm.
“There is a poor selection of pesticides, use of older generation or off-patent products, weak regulatory frameworks and suboptimal or poor application,” said Joyce Mulila-Miti, FAO Plant Production and Protection for Southern Africa.
A number of Highly Hazardous Pesticides that present high levels of acute or chronic hazards to health or environment according to internationally accepted classification systems are currently being used in the region to control the fall armyworm. These include Methomyl (>34%), Cyflothrin (>22%), Endosulfan and Methyl parathion (>28%) and Methamidophos (>58.5%).
The recommendation from the meeting was that countries should adopt Integrated Pest Management (IPM) that emphasizes the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems and encourages natural pest control mechanisms.
Although most Member Countries were relatively better prepared to respond to the fall armyworm in the 2017/18 agricultural season, the meeting recommended that stakeholders should focus more efforts on the development of appropriate education and training programmes and materials for farmers.
“Since farmers are at the frontline of the infestation, it is important that they are put at the centre of all programmes developed to respond to the fall armyworm,” said Thomas Rojas, Director, Regional Economic Growth Office, US Department for International Development (USAID)/Southern Africa.
Participants also recommended putting in place measures to assess and determine the areas affected by the fall armyworm, the severity of the consequences on maize production and other crops and the effects of the infestation on food security and livelihoods.