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FAO rolls out technology to fight Fall Armyworm

Dr John Bahana, National Consultant for Intergrated Pest Management at FAO Uganda demonstrating use of the pheromone trap.(Photo by David Mafabi)

MUKONO – After using a temporary pesticide combination to fight against fall armyworm, Farmers in many parts of the country could start smiling after the Food and Agricultural Organisation developed a new technology that will help farmers to fight against the destructive fall armyworm.

The FAO has been working with the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries [MAAIF] to develop technologies to manage the pest through a community-based approach and has now developed a mobile phone application known as the FAMEWS for monitoring and early detection of the Fall Army Worm.

According to FAO, the new technology provides a lasting solution to the armyworm that has affected more than half of the country posing a significant threat to food security.

Described as FAMEWS mobile app, the technology will monitor and give an early warning system to the farmers regarding the Fall Armyworm which then will build knowledge on how and where the pest spreads, and make it less damaging,

Mr Keith Cressman, the senior agricultural officer who leads who FAO’s digital response to Fall Armyworm and other pests, while handing over the technology to farmers at Mukono Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MuZARDI) August 13 said the new tool will help farmers recognise the new enemy and take immediate measures to stop it.

“With the new application, farmers can hold the phone next to an infested plant, and they will be able to detect and immediately confirm the Fall Armyworm,” said Mr Cressman.

The equipment handed over to farmers included 126 mobile phones loaded with the FAMEWS app which will be used in 15 districts to pilot a community-based FAW monitoring and early warning system.

These districts include; Mukono, Iganga, Bulamburi, Nakapiripirit, Oyam, Adjumani, Kiryandong, Kibaale, Kasese, Lira, Kayunga, Soroti, Busia, Masindi and Luwero.

The other items handed over to MAAIF included 700 pheromone traps and 6000 lures facilitate detection of the presence and build-up of FAW and to capture adult moths.

Mr Cressman said the use of pheromone traps will be instrumental in detecting the presence and build-up of Fall Army Worm [FAW] in areas where the traps are deployed.

The Pheromones are natural compounds emitted by female FAW moths to attract male moths for mating and that synthetic compounds that mimic natural FAW pheromones, often referred to as lures are placed in traps to attract and trap male moths.

“The moths that are caught are then counted, the number will be recorded on the mobile app and submitted to FAO central platform with countries having rights to access and validate. And from the numbers caught, farmers can know if FAW is present in their fields or in their locality and determine the need for increased scouting,” said Mr Cressman.

Mr Stephen Byantwale Commissioner for Crop Protection in the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries (L) receiving a pheromone trap mobile phone and lures from the Assistant FAO-Rep. (Photo by David Mafabi)

The new technology comes at the time farmers are planning and preparing their gardens for the second planting season expected to start by the end of August 2018.

Dr Charles Owach, the Assistant FAO Representative in charge of Programmes underscored the importance of setting up a community-based system for monitoring, early detection and the management of the devastating pest.

He explained that early detection, collecting and analysing information, is essential for tracking and efficiently responding to the large-scale threat posed by FAW.

“The major action required for effective and sustainable management of FAW is at the community level. With the community monitoring system, farmers can make informed decisions for early action, that is, timely scouting of their fields and undertaking appropriate control actions,” Dr Owach said.

He explained that through the community monitoring system, extension workers at local, district and national level will be able to appropriately advise farmers on FAW control and that the system will also monitor the spread of FAW across geographical areas nationally and at a continental level.

The FAMEWS mobile app has been rolled out in a number of countries but more in Sub-Saharan countries in Africa with notable success in Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and others. It will be expanded to North Africa, the Near East, India and other parts of Asia where FAW is spreading.

He revealed further that the monitoring system will benefit communities dependent on maize for food and income.

Mr Stephen Byantwale, the Commissioner for Crop Protection at MAAIF, who received the equipment on behalf of Government noted that whereas Uganda realised a bumper maize harvest during the first season of 2018 compared to 2017 where more than half of the maize crop was lost to the FAW), there is a need to continue monitoring because the residual populations of the FAW have the potential to cause more outbreaks.

“We are grateful to FAO for these items that we will be deploying in communities as a pilot project and based on the results, the government will explore opportunities to roll out this approach to other districts given that the data available so far indicates presence of FAW in all districts in Uganda,” said Mr Byantware.

He urged farmers to start scouting as they prepare to plant maize for the onset second season adding that the move is aimed at minimising the use of pesticides in the management of FAW.

“Now that we know what the pest is, there is need for sustainable control and management mechanisms which are safer for both humans and the environment such as the use of natural biological control agents, mechanical destruction of egg masses and larvae among others and let the Pesticides should come as a very last resort” Mr Byantware added.

He revealed that the use of biological mechanisms such wasps, nematodes, and some fungus that attack and destroy the caterpillars is being studied by the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO)..

He stated that Uganda has a national strategy and action plan for control of FAW which has short, medium and long-term measures and commended FAO for supporting the Government of Uganda to implement national its FAW control and management strategy through the technical cooperation project and sub-regional project on FAW.

About Fall Army Worm [FAW]

Fall Armyworm (FAW) is an insect pest native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. Since it was first reported in 2016, FAW has spread across sub-Saharan Africa, causing extensive and widespread damage, particularly to maize crops. By mid-2017, FAW was present in all of Uganda’s districts, causing between 15 and 75 percent yield loss. An estimated 450 000 metric tonnes of maize, equivalent to US$ 192 million was lost during the first cropping season of 2017, directly affecting 3.6 million people or 9% of the population.

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