Acción mundial de lucha contra el gusano cogollero del maíz

Thirty countries share biocontrol research and options for FAW control

Training sessions focus on mass rearing of natural enemies of pest
07 July 2023

Coccygidium luteum targets larval stages of FAW and may play a key role in complementing the impact of egg parasitoids on FAW egg hatching in diversified maize-cropping systems (Photo © icipe)

Nairobi, Kenya, 26-30 June 2023 - A wide range of biological control options to manage invasive pests like fall armyworm (FAW), and a roadmap to scale-up application of these options, were discussed during a week-long Global Forum and Training Workshop on Biological Control that drew more than 80 participants from 30 countries.

The gathering that began on 26 June 2023 in Nairobi formed a nucleus of an informal technical network to share knowledge and experience among researchers, extension agents and private-sector partners. There, speakers emphasized the urgency of the crisis, noting that FAW has caused annual yield losses of almost USD 9.4 billion in Africa alone since 2016. That translates into food shortages, nutritional insecurity, and threats to livelihoods of millions while driving up chemical pesticide use.

Mr Xia Jingyuan, Director of FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division (NSP), emphasized the value of FAO’s Global Action for FAW Control, which has developed a well-functioning, highly successful co-ordination mechanism that enables experience-sharing and development of pest management techniques based on sustainable, biological approaches.

“The Global Action offers comprehensive, prevention, preparedness and biologically-based integrated pest management (IPM) packages,” said Mr Xia. The forum was co-organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe).

“These IPM packages emphasize proven, sustainable biological control that can include augmentative releases of natural enemies, microbial or botanical biopesticides for sustainable FAW management.”

The two-day forum was followed by three days of hands-on training in arthropod natural enemies and microbial biopesticides, equipping trainees to conduct mass rearing of natural enemies and mass production of microbial biopesticides. Icipe noted that in Africa, over 30 indigenous parasitoid species that attack FAW have been identified in 17 countries.

Participants visited an icipe long-term research platform on organic agriculture and met with farmers during a trip to KALRO Food Crops Research Institute in Embu. Later training sessions also included field surveys for FAW natural enemies on a working maize farm; mass-rearing of various host insects for parasitoid production; and bioprospecting and characterisation of microbials for pest management.

Visits to icipe’s parasitoid production facility and arthropod pathology unit to observe microbes for FAW management and practical exercises in the lab rounded out the training.

Extensive damage caused by FAW in affected countries and lack of effective management strategies have resulted in pesticide‐based emergency responses in many affected countries at an enormous cost in resources, environment, and human health.

“Since this notorious pest invaded Africa, icipe’s vision has been to provide farmers with science-led, context specific, affordable and environmentally friendly solutions for its management,” said Ms Segenet Kelemu, icipe Director General and CEO.

Participants highlighted the necessity of strengthened research for development and dissemination of biocontrol technologies, including strategies to enable youth entrepreneurship. Discussions emphasized the need for financial, logistical and policy support from national governments in such areas as surveillance and monitoring of invasive pests; establishing repositories of biocontrol resources; and promotion of local production and use of biocontrol options.

Through extensive research on FAW’s behaviour and ecology in Africa, icipe has developed a climate-smart, agro-ecological management package that addresses the direct damage by FAW, as well as the range of obstacles affecting cereal production in Africa. The package integrates the icipe push–pull technology, which intercrops cereals with legumes and fodder grass; natural enemies; biopesticides and sex pheromones, said Ms Kelemu.

The icipe biopesticides, which are developed from strains of insect-infecting fungi, have been commercialised by private-sector partners. Alongside other icipe FAW management innovations, they are being used by farmers in various countries in Eastern and Southern Africa, where they are highly effective, she added. 

The critical role of extension services and methods, such as farmer field schools, was also emphasized during the event, organized with support from the European Union, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Mr Abebe Haile-Gabriel, Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative, FAO Regional Office for Africa, said that although biological control methods have been shown to be both efficacious and sustainable, adoption remains generally low.

Indeed, a sizeable number of biocontrol research outputs have been seen in the last decade in the Global South; however, a similar level of adoption of biocontrol solutions in the same countries is missing, said Buyung Hadi, global coordinator of the FAW Secretariat in FAO.

“Therefore, it’s important to think and act on the last mile delivery of biological control solutions and use all levers possible, including policy, extension and entrepreneurship, to scale-up biological control in the Global South,” he said. 

More on this topic:

Global Action for Fall Armyworm Control

Global Forum on Biological Control and Training Workshop on Biological Control