Fall Armyworm, a devastating field pest native to the Americas, has been gaining ground in Sub-Saharan Africa in the last few years. Devouring maize, a staple crop in numerous communities, it poses a serious threat to smallholders who depend on annual, sometimes meagre, harvests for their survival.
One Acre Fund began hearing reports of fall armyworm outbreaks, from clients, in 2017. We have since encountered infestations in all our countries of operation. We detail the impact on the farming communities we serve and share our experience responding to this crisis in this new report, produced in partnership with USAID.
The rapid advance of fall armyworm through the continent can be attributed to their speed. Moths can cover up to 100 kilometers per night with females laying as many as 2,000 eggs during their lifetime. It has been particularly catastrophic in areas where maize is a major staple, although capable of affecting a variety of crops.
If left unaddressed, outbreaks could drive countless African farming families, who cultivate their fields for both food and income, deeper into hunger and poverty. With access to inputs severely limited, harvest yields are often low and unreliable for these farmers. Many endure an annual ‘hunger’ season, a period between planting and harvest when food stocks set aside from the year before tend to run out. This makes them extremely susceptible to shocks, so any reduction in crop yields can have long-lasting effects on their food security and well-being.
One Acre Fund has developed a series of interventions in response to fall armyworm outbreaks across all program countries. Our response predominantly involves training on identifying, preventing, and responding to the pests.
Training, offered in weekly or bi-weekly sessions, introduces farmers to methods within the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) umbrella, as advised by USAID, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and other reputed organizations. IPM is an approach to pest management that advocates holistic farming practices to suppress outbreaks while minimizing potential harm to humans and the environment.
As the effects of fall armyworm vary from country to country, training is adapted to local conditions with interactive discussions led by field staff fluent in indigenous dialects. Some topics covered in these courses include ecological approaches to battling the pests, crop rotation, inter-cropping, and manual control methods. We consistently conduct surveys to ensure farmers understand our advice and, at the same time, evaluate new ways to improve our response.
IPM: A Closer Look
One Acre Fund training covers a wide range of agriculture techniques intended to prevent or treat fall armyworm. Farmers attend sessions in groups with their neighbours and receive printed handouts with guidance that they can keep for later reference. Facilitators ensure that training is interactive by physically demonstrating recommended practices with time dedicated to questions and answers. This is to encourage maximum information retention as farmers may be encountering the concepts for the first time.
Topics covered are diverse and are designed to respond to the nature of a fall armyworm outbreak within the area. For example, a session on the timing of planting cautions against late planting to reduce the number of young maize plants vulnerable to infestation at peak periods when the pest feeds. On variety selection, farmers are informed of a number of crop varieties that can be planted to resist fall armyworm and how to take advantage of several varieties on their fields. Other modules advise on best practises for cleaning farming equipment to prevent the spread of crop pests from one field to another and, for those with an acre or less, controlling outbreaks by routinely inspecting fields and crushing eggs or larvae by hand.
One Acre Fund field officers regularly visit clients at their homes and farms so they have frequent opportunities to ask questions or request individual follow-up. We have found that most farmers are keenly aware of the potential risks of fall armyworm and are quite receptive of IPM practices in responding to outbreaks.