FAO Regional Office for Africa

Southern and Eastern African countries agree on urgent actions to tackle armyworm and other crop pests and animal diseases

Strengthening national and regional early warning systems, response and preparedness plans

Photo © Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development - Zimbabwe

16 February 2016, Harare – Sixteen East and Southern African countries agreed today on urgent plans of action aimed at boosting the region’s capacity to manage emerging crop pests and livestock diseases, including armyworm and avian influenza.

This came at the end of a three-day, FAO-organized emergency meeting in Harare to discuss ways to respond to a major fall armyworm infestation affecting at least seven countries in the region, whose combined population is more than 70 percent of the total population of Southern Africa.

“Fall armyworm, which is mostly associated with the Americas, is a new threat in Southern Africa and we are very concerned with the emergence, intensity and spread of the pest. It is only a matter of time before most of the region will be affected, and the costs and implications of this are very serious, as seen in places where fall armyworm is endemic such as Brazil, where the government spends in excess of $600 million each year to try to control infestations,” said David Phiri, FAO Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa.

For his part, Esaiah Tjelele, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) representative at the meeting said: “Due to the complexity of the infestation and gaps in technical capacities, countries are still struggling to make assessments on the damage that has so far been caused. Pest identification services are also inadequate in some of the countries, hence delaying response action”.

Zambia has reported that almost 90 000 hectares of maize have been affected, forcing farmers to replant their crops. In Malawi some 17 000 hectares have so far been affected while in Namibia, approximately 50 000 hectares of maize and millet has been damaged and in Zimbabwe up to 130 000 hectares could be affected thus far.

Preparedness and rapid response is crucial

Participants at the Harare meeting agreed that the fall armyworm infestation shows the urgent need for swift and coordinated action to deal with such threats. They identified gaps in the region’s early warning systems, response, preparedness, contingency planning, including information dissemination and effective regional coordination.

The meeting proposed a number of interventions to close such gaps and to boost critical research areas which can provide a better understanding of the pest and disease that pose threats to plants or animals.

FAO said it will support countries in close collaboration with SADC and other partners and stakeholders to implement the necessary assessment activities aimed at improving understanding on the extent and intensity of the fall armyworm threat to the region.

These will also serve to mobilize the required resources including human expertise and funding. Meanwhile, countries were also encouraged to roll-out awareness campaigns targeting farmers, extension workers and other stakeholders.

FAO has initiated the process of procuring pheromone insect lure traps which are used for capturing armyworm and monitoring their spread.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza

The meeting in Harare also stressed the need to deal with emerging transboundary livestock diseases such as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) which, if not properly managed, can spread rapidly with devastating impact on poultry production.

“Prevention and early detection and speedy response to HPAI is far cheaper than dealing with a full-blown outbreak,” Moetapele Letshwenyo of the World Organization for Animal Health told meeting participants. He called upon development partners to fund HPAI preparedness and control programmes and to build technical and response capacities of national public health systems.

On this, countries agreed on a set of measures including forming multi-stakeholder national and regional task forces to help coordinate and manage preparedness and response actions to HPAI. The task forces will consist of specialists in animal and human medicine, epidemiology, virology and pathology.

Countries also agreed to urgently begin disease surveillance and set up early warning systems. They would also review procedures, take stock of supplies and protective equipment, and simulate scenarios of how the outbreak would progress.