FAO Regional Office for Africa

Curbing the march of African Armyworm

FAO launches a project to protect staple food crops from devastating losses caused by the African Armyworm

The field visits demonstrated the different stages of the pest's life cycle, density levels and the extent of damage caused. ©FAO/ Abebe Banjaw

12 June 2023, Naivasha, Kenya- A new project launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) aims to harness national capacities against the incursion of African Armyworm – a pest which has the capacity to destroy up to 100 percent of staple foods if left uncontrolled.

The project, titled "Emergency Support to Manage Outbreaks and Infestation by African Armyworm in Eastern Africa," extends support to six countries in the region: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda. By establishing 2400 monitoring sites, with 400 sites in each country, the project provides training to over 1350 people in monitoring, early warning, and effective management techniques for African Armyworm.

Furthermore, the project focuses on engaging experts from National Plant Protection Units within the Ministries of Agriculture as the primary beneficiaries, while also providing in-country knowledge transfer training to national experts and community focal persons in villages.

The project emphasizes the use of a Community Based Armyworm Monitoring and Forecasting (CBAMF) system, which was started in Tanzania in 2000, with subsequent rollouts in Ethiopia and Kenya. The system has demonstrated promising results and was scaled up in high-risk villages in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania from 2012 to 2015.

In his opening remark, H.E. Kello Harsama, Principal Secretary State Department for Crop Development at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development of Kenya, delivered by Joseph Kirubi, Secretary Administrator at the Department, underscored the fact that Kenya had just come out from the worst Desert Locust invasion that threatened farmers lives and livelihoods in over 28 counties and was again facing the dangers of the African Armyworm.

“Kenya has carried out surveillance on over 1.12 million hectares, of which about 296 thousand hectares were found to be affected by African Armyworm. So far, over 173 thousand hectares of land were protected through ground spraying. However, effective and lasting protection can be achieved through regional collaborative efforts,” said Harsama.  

Xia Jingyuan, Director of the Plant Production and Protection Division (NSP) at FAO, highlighted that this pest poses a serious threat to food insecurity in the subregion, necessitating the urgent intervention of FAO and its partners to prevent major loss of crops, which are already under pressure of prolonged drought.

“The pest is reproducing itself up to 13 generations in a single year, with a huge potential of major outbreaks. In 2022, the outbreaks were reported in many Eastern African nations. Recognizing this challenge, FAO is employing its expertise to support the fight against Fall Armyworm to protect the livelihoods of smallholders through robust monitoring and management of the pest,” said Jingyuan.     

The African Armyworm is a transboundary pest that threatens food security and nutrition in the whole of the Eastern Africa subregion, said Carla Mucavi, FAO Representative in Kenya, during her welcoming note.

“The pest can cause serious damage on staple foods unless it is monitored and managed. No single country can manage this pest alone. We need to join hands to defeat this pest, so as to prevent major crop losses that endanger the livelihoods of the smallholder farmers. Thus, I call upon governments and partners to put on more resources to catalyze and enhance the fight against this worrisome pest,” said Mucavi.  

The project launch programme provided a valuable platform for stakeholders to understand the project's objectives, deliverables and the roles of key participants in its implementation. Through training programmes on the biology, ecology, monitoring, early warning systems, management techniques and reporting using FAO's FAW Monitoring and Early Warning System (FAMEWS), participating countries had the opportunity to share their existing practices. The field visits allowed attendees to witness the different stages of the pest's life cycle, density levels and the extent of damage caused, while also demonstrating monitoring and spraying equipment.

About the African Armyworm

The African Armyworm (AAW) is a transboundary insect pest that typically emerges during rainy seasons following prolonged drought periods. It poses a severe threat to cereal crops, including maize, millet, sorghum, rice, wheat, teff, barley, as well as sugarcane seedlings and pasture grasses. These crops serve as essential staple foods in Eastern Africa, and any losses incurred due to African Armyworm infestations pose a grave risk to regional food security. Reports indicate that losses in agricultural production range from 9 percent in plants attacked at the early whorl stage to 100 percent in those damaged at the pre-tassel stage. In 2022, five out of the nine Eastern African countries were affected by outbreaks of the African Armyworm.