Fall Armyworm attack: Ethiopia wakes up as pest wreaks havoc

The authorities are distributing chemicals and disseminating information to farmers and the general public

By Abate Hailu
Published: Friday 01 March 2019
Credit: Creative Commons

The Ethiopian government has woken up to the menace of the Fall Army Worm (FAW), which has wrought havoc in the country like many other countries in the continent.

The government has formed a National Technical Advisory Committee comprising of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and the National Agricultural Research Council.

“We could not sit and watch this disaster happening. In order to counter and combat the outbreak of FAW, the government is creating awareness among and distributing chemicals to farmers. We are monitoring the situation closely,” Alemayehu Berhanu, head of the Public Relations Bureau of MoA told Down to Earth.

In early 2016, strains of FAW were first spotted in Nigeria, after the moth probably crossed the Atlantic in cargo containers before being dispersed by winds. Now, the pest has spread to 44 African countries including Ethiopia.

“FAW has spread to Ethiopia from the Kenyan border. In Ethiopia, it was first detected in an irrigated maize field in Yekiworeda in the Sheka Zone of the south in 2017,” Berhanu said.

In 2018, more than 0.6 million hectares of maize fields in Ethiopia were affected by FAW. This was a big departure from 2018 and 2017, when FAW has broken out in nearly all cultivated areas Ethiopa but did not have a significant influence on yields.

Berhanu said FAW damages economically important cultivated grasses such as maize, millet, wheat, potato, soybean, cowpea, peanuts, sorghum, rice, sugarcane and even vegetables and cotton.

According to evidence available, FAW thrives due to climate change. Its entire life cycle is completed in 30 days during warm weather. It can take up to 90 days during cooler weather.

Ethiopia’s economy is highly dependent on agriculture, which in turn is largely rain-fed.

“FAW is very destructive since it affects the productivity of every nation it attacks,” Berhanu added.

Bahiru Setegne, a communications expert in MoA stated that although FAW has broken out in different areas of India, the scenario is not doomsday-like since different controlling mechanisms have been introduced from federal to kebele (ward) level through information dissemination.

In addition to distributing chemicals to farmers in the affected regions, the government has established the National Plant Protection Mobilization Symposium. Through it, the authorities are able to disseminate relevant information about FAW and other plant-related issues for communities and stakeholders through media.

Ethiopian farmers, who have confirmed that FAW has hit their maize crops, say they are now becoming aware of the worm and can tackle it. They add that “had there been a commitment from the concerned stakeholders about the worm, we could have managed to take measures against it as early as possible”.

The MoA has also called on the public to help in the national effort as much as they can.

(This is a part of a series of stories tracking the world’s deadliest pest attack. Read the other stories here)

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