FAO Regional Office for Africa

Experts recommend minimum use of pesticides to control the Fall Armyworm in Africa

Use of biological controls such as the insects’ natural enemies, is strongly urged

These recommendations were made at an FAO organized workshop in Accra from 19 to 21 July where experts from the Americas shared with colleagues from Africa their knowledge and experiences in combating Fall Armyworm, Photo:©FAO

20 July 2017, Accra – Experts say that, in combating Fall Armyworm (FAW) infestations in sub-Saharan Africa, farmers should reduce as much as possible the use of chemical pesticides against which the harmful insects can build resistance, and also because the technique is neither economically nor environmentally sustainable and could present health risks.

Allowing the Fall Armyworm’s natural enemies – predators, parasitoids or pathogens – to build up in affected areas can provide a cost-effective and natural or biological control against the spread of this crop pest, without the damage to human health or the environment that pesticides can cause, the experts said.  

These recommendations were made at an FAO organized workshop in Accra from 18 to 20 July where experts from the Americas shared with colleagues from Africa their knowledge and experiences in combating Fall Armyworm.

Celso Omoto, an Integrated Pest Management expert at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, noted that if the use of pesticides becomes necessary in cases of heavy FAW infestations, then selected pesticides, preferably biopesticides, should be applied.

“My suggestion, therefore, is for farmers to focus on the use of biological control which involves preserving natural control agents in the field as well as the release of natural enemies produced in laboratories,” Omoto added.

FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa, David Phiri, pointed out that farmers must be discouraged from the use of synthetic pesticides that might be harmful to the environment and human health.

“Obviously, the pest (FAW) has come to stay and it must be managed; for this reason FAO is developing a guide for Africa governments, which would be used to assist farmers in their response to FAW. If governments are buying pesticides, botanical and biological pesticides should be preferred,” he noted.

Fall Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) is a pest of many important crops in sub-Saharan Africa (including maize, sorghum, millet, rice, wheat, cotton, and vegetables) but it prefers maize and other plants of the grass family.

The species has quickly spread across Africa and is now well established in more than 25 countries. New to Africa, FAW probably arrived without all its natural enemies (predators, parasitoids and pathogens) that in the pests’ native Americas can provide a high level of natural control.

Encouraging natural enemies of FAW

Farmers and agricultural extension agents in Africa are still learning how to identify FAW and understand its biology and ecology in order to manage it. In contrast, both maize and FAW are native to the Americas, where farmers have been managing the pest and where researchers have been studying it for many years.

The experts recommended that surveys should be conducted to identify FAW’s existing natural enemies in Africa. This information can then be used to select the best ways to implement biological control.

The meeting also recommended a review of pesticides to avoid that these ingredients impact on FAW’s natural enemies, other beneficial organisms and the environment.

FAW is a pest that farmers will have to manage in the context of their cropping. Experience and recommendations on pesticide use in other continents should be taken into careful consideration within the sub-Saharan African context.

FAO commitments

In sub-Saharan Africa, over 95 percent of maize farmers are smallholder family farmers. They often grow a diversity of crops, with limited access to inputs and services, and often receive low prices for the maize they sell to markets. These farmers need support in combating FAW.

FAO is promoting quick access to biopesticides by African smallholders. This involves the rapid registration of these biopesticides, their local production, quality control, and the sharing of information about how they have to be used.

Sustainably managing Fall Armyworm

FAO recommends that FAW management should follow the sustainable integrated pest management approach. This includes farmers’ mobilization, identification of FAW and its life stages, biology and ecology, and manual destruction of egg masses.

Trials to determine the effectiveness of traditional practices and habitat management to manage FAW must be promoted and work with national extension services and farmers groups must also be encouraged.

The recommendations from the FAO Expert Meeting helped to develop a training curriculum on Fall Armyworm Management during a follow-up ‘write shop’ on 21-25 July, Accra. A Training of FFS Master trainers and extension workers will be organized shortly in the four sub-regions of Africa, to roll out through thousands of Farmer Field Schools and field trainings.