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Nairobi Scientists discover technology to manage maize pest

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Scientists at the Nairobi-based International Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) announced Thursday they have discovered a technology that will manage ravaging pest that has worsened food insecurity in Africa.

In a statement released in Nairobi, the scientists said the technology, Push-Pull, is effective in controlling the Fall Armyworm (FAW), which mainly prefer maize plants and sometimes crops such as sorghum, millet, vegetables and other crops.

ICIPE Senior Research Scientist Charles Midega said the new technology is providing a suitable, accessible, environmentally friendly and cost-effective strategy for management of the pest.

“Our findings reveal that FAW infestation is more than 80 percent lower in farms where the climate-adapted push-pull is being used, with associated increases in grain yields, in comparison to mono-crop plots,” Midega said.

The technology involves intercropping cereal crops with insect repellent legumes in the Desmodium genus, and planting an attractive forage plant such as Napier grass as a border around this intercrop.

The intercrop emits a blend of compounds that repel away stem borer moths, while the border plants emit semi-chemicals that are attractive to the pests.

It was originally developed for the control of stem borers, the key pests of cereal crops across most of Africa, and the parasitic Striga weeds.

Midega said that farmers who apply push-pull technology have reported that their farms were free of fall armyworm infestation while neighboring mono-crop plots were being ravaged by the pest.

“We then embarked in evaluating the climate-adapted version of the technology as a potential management tool for fall armyworm in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to confirm the findings,” he said.

The findings now represent the first documented report of a readily available technology that can be immediately deployed in different parts of Africa to efficiently manage the fall armyworm.

The pest is a destructive moth that causes devastating damage to almost 100 plant species, including rice, wheat and sugarcane, as well as a variety of horticultural crops, threatening food and nutritional security, trade and overall economies.

Until 2016, the fall armyworm was constrained to its native region of origin, the Western Hemisphere (from the United States to Argentina).

It was first reported in Nigeria in January 2016 and has since spread at an alarming rate across 28 African countries including Kenya, while a further nine either strongly suspect, or are awaiting confirmation of invasion.

“Efforts to control FAW through conventional methods, such as use of insecticides are complicated by the fact that the adult stage of the pest is most active at night, and the infestation is only detected after damage has been caused to the crop,” Midega observed.

He added that the pest has a diverse range of alternative host plants that enable its populations to persist and spread.

Midega added that the pest has been shown to develop resistance to some insecticides, while the performance of such chemicals is also hindered by limited knowledge and purchasing power of farmers, resulting in use of low quality, and often harmful products.

“The ability to manage such a devastating pest clearly demonstrates Push-Pull’s utility as a platform technology in addressing the multitude of challenges that affect cereal-livestock farming systems in Africa,” ICIPE’s Director General Segenet Kelemu said.

She announced plans to disseminate the technology all over Africa while advancing studies to understand the scientific basis of its effectiveness against the fall army worm.

Kelemu thanked ICIPE’s development partners for investing in finding solutions to Africa’s agriculture problem over the years.

Push-Pull has recently been adapted to drier areas through the incorporation of drought tolerant companion plants.

It also controls maize ear rots and mycotoxins, while improving soil health and providing high quality fodder, since the companion crops are superior forages.



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