Global Action for Fall Armyworm Control

Empowering communities in Eastern Africa to learn new skills to fight fall armyworm

02 June 2020

Maize is an important staple food crop for smallholder farmers in Eastern Africa. However, the production of this crop has been hampered by the invasion of the fall armyworm (FAW). This pest causes devastating damage to more over 80 plant species, and has posed a serious threat to the food security, nutrition, and livelihoods of millions of farming households. FAW invaded maize fields in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, the United Republic of Tanzania and Uganda over the past two years, with infestation levels ranging from 33 percent to 100 percent. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recognized the gravity of the situation and coordinated interventions at the sub-regional level. FAO worked with such partners as the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI); the Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA); and the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe). The national Ministries of Agriculture in the six affected countries also joined the partnership to support efforts to contain the spread of FAW.

Working with the support of USAID and its Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), FAO helped to develop the project: Establishing an emergency community–based fall armyworm monitoring, forecasting, early warning and management system (CBFAMFEW) in Eastern Africa. Through this project, FAO introduced an integrated pest management (IPM) system, linked closely with community surveillance and control approaches, to manage infestations. IPM promotes the safe and effective use of pesticides by farmers, using new tools and technologies. Key strategies for application included: effective monitoring, scouting and surveillance; application of low-risk synthetic pesticides that are environmentally safer; conservation of indigenous natural enemies of FAW and classic biological control; and promotion of low-cost agronomic practices/cultural control.

The partnership offered hands-on training, at national and community levels, to farmers on effective IPM practices. Some 96 national trainers, 600 community focal points, 1 254 district and community levels development agents and over 10 000 farmers at community levels were trained on FAW surveillance, monitoring and scouting, and prevention and control methods. Prevention and control operations were discussed and agreed to during district and community-level meetings, held in 30 districts and 300 villages across the six countries. Additional support was provided through the distribution of pheromone traps, lures, insecticidal strips and mobile phones. The latter were loaded with the FAO mobile application Fall Armyworm Monitoring and Early Warning System (FAMEWS) to support farmers. Educational materials, including an English-language training manual, plus posters and flyers in nine languages, were developed and distributed to raise awareness and reinforce knowledge.

Integrating IPM into the six countries’ national FAW monitoring and control programmes required considerable effort. Low literacy rates in the communities, coupled with limited flexibility in some national systems, created extra work in rolling out the FAW training programmes. Shifting attitudes away from customary use of synthetic pesticides, to more environmentally friendly means of FAW control, remains a challenge. However, wherever the project was implemented, a shift in the mind-set of communities toward safer and sustainable management of FAW was observed. By the end of the project, communities were able to control the FAW invasion in their areas using IPM methods. Farmers reduced crop losses caused by FAW, by using diverse non-chemical control options, reducing costs and hazards from insecticides to human and environmental health. Communities that were trained said they felt empowered and confident to prevent and control future outbreaks of FAW in their fields. The story does not end there, however. Many more communities need support to combat FAW. FAO and its partners, including Ministries of Agriculture, have learned from this process that mobilising communities with the right skills and inputs is instrumental to effectively fight emerging pests. With the recently launched Hand-in-Hand Initiative, FAO intends to share more knowledge and resources across Eastern Africa – where maize is a pillar of food security – to intensify the fight against FAW.