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Scientists warn armyworm invasion to
endanger East African food security

By Peter Mutai NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Small-scale farmers across the East African region are likely to grapple with severe food insecurity due to the recent fall armyworm invasion on key staples, scientists warned on Sunday.

Prasanna Boddupalli, director of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center’s (CIMMYT) Global Maize Program, said the virulent pest has so far damaged an estimated 287,000 hectares of maize in the region since last year.

“Surveys conducted last year in farmers’ fields confirmed the pest is spreading fast in Kenya and Uganda. It poses a significant risk to the two countries’ quest to tackle food insecurity against a backdrop of drought,” Boddupalli said during an interview with Xinhua in Nairobi.

He disclosed that the armyworm infestation was discovered in three Kenyan counties namely Embu, Kisii and Machakos as well as Namulonge, Kasese and Gulu regions of Uganda.

The fall armyworm whose botanical name is Spodoptera frugiperda can cause an estimated 73-percent crop failure and resist pesticides if its larvae develop into advanced stages.

Boddupalli said that CIMMYT and national agricultural research partners have been monitoring the spread of the fall armyworm in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

He urged national agricultural research organizations in the region to develop a robust integrated pest management system that include early warning to help farmers combat armyworm invasion effectively.

Boddupalli revealed that scientists at CIMMYT are currently researching on improved maize varieties that can resist the pest’s attack.

“We must explore a range of options like use of pesticides and biological pest control methods to limit the damage of army worms on staple crops,” said Boddupalli

He noted biological pest control methods alone can reduce armyworm infestation by 30 percent.

Originated from the Americas, the fall armyworm is a new pest to Africa, first discovered in Nigeria before spreading to central, southern and now eastern African region late last year.


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