A seed development expert based at COMESA Secretariat has called for a regional approach towards the fight against army worms which have attacked agriculture fields in some Member States.
Dr John Mukuka says both small-scale and commercial farmers need to work together with governments and agriculture institutions to ensure that the army worms and other pests are eliminated before more damage is done to crops.
He has revealed that the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa (ACTESA) through the COMESA Seed Harmonization Implementation Plan (COMSHIP) working in close collaboration with several key national and regional institutions have developed management options to help deal with the Fall Army Worm (FAW).
“The Fall Army Worm is a transboundary pest and a regional approach on its management is inevitable at all levels which include the EAC-SADC-COMESA Tripartite level and at the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) level,” Dr Mukuka added.
He however emphasized that an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for the FAW is the best option as no single method is effective, especially that other options including biorational pesticides, transgenic resistance, native genetic base and seed treatment can only protect the fields up to 2-3 weeks.
The management options within the COMSHIP framework include planting maize varieties which are resistant or partially resistant to the African Army Worm. The maize varieties with husks extending 50-80 mm beyond the top of the cob and closing tightly around the silks restrict the entry of larvae into the cob. Available varieties can be accessed from existing seed companies on the COMESA Variety Catalogue.
According to Dr Mukuka, the Fall Army Worm can now be found in 44 countries in Africa covering more than 22 million square kilometers and it has also spread globally from Meso-America and North America.
In the 2015/16 season, a new attack of the Fall Army Worm was reported in the COMESA Member States of Malawi, Uganda Zambia and Zimbabwe as well as northern parts of South Africa and Mozambique.
The mature caterpillar is about 1.5 to 2 inches (51 mm) in length and feeds in large numbers on leaves and stems of more than 80 plant species, causing major damage to economically important cultivated grasses such as maize, rice, sorghum, sugarcane but also other vegetable crops and cotton.
Recommended insecticides which are generally effective for African Army Worm control when applied as sprays or dusts or in combination with trenching include: Endosulphan (1 litre/ha), Carbaryl (310g/ha), Cypermethrin (150ml/ha) and Fenitrothion. “As larvae are most active at night, spraying in the afternoon or evening may produce the best results, Dr Mukuka advised.
The COMESA Seed Programme was created in response to food and seed insecurity experienced in the period 2007/08 season. COMSHIP is aimed at enhancing the availability of quality and improved seed to 80 million small-scale farmers currently found in the 21-member COMESA region.