Fall armyworm: Farmers nightmare

The tragedy of an American Fall armyworm (AFAM) out brake has started effecting African farmers. Fall Armyworm commonly known as American Fall Armyworm is a new species of pest /insect that originates in America, mostly related with common Fall Armyworms. Researches done by UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) indicate that this species attack more than 80 types of crops, mainly the maize crop. AFAM spread rapidly due to business activities. AFAM was first seen in Africa in 2016 mainly in West and Central Africa. And later was seen in the sub-Saharan African (southern Africa). And In Tanzania, it was first seen in 2017.

Fall armyworms:Farmers nightmare

Farmers explain the effects and challenges they face in efforts to rescue the crops; 
Pests start from the roots to the leaves, as you spray pesticides in the morning, later you find they have multiplied. We just pick them as the common Fall Armyworms, but these are extreme. For now, they even eat dry cobs. Financially, we are also challenged since the money we get, we buy pesticide, which even don’t help. We spray in the morning and if it rains, the pesticides get washed away. Most of us have been affected by this pest. 

Even though we used to have pests in the previous years, this year’s pests are the disaster; I have never seen this situation before. We used to spraying other crops, mainly cotton but not maize crops.

When we planted, the maize germinated well, but later appeared this pest, I don’t know, you call them stalk borer, oh what!, you know better  and attacked. You can see. Some of the crops didn’t even flower. We sprayed trice but with no avail. As you can see, there is nothing. 

This year is a challenge; the planting was well done, but after almost three weeks the pests appeared. Immediately, we applied pesticides which seemed useless. So we opted for NINJA, but it could not help. Up to now,  the situation is worse, and the production is declining. 

Last year, I planted 15 acres of maize but I was challenged with Fall ArmyWorms. In addressing the challenge, I applied all kinds of pesticides with no avail. As I sprayed, the pests multiplied, so instead of killing them, it looks like I was reproducing them and those which looked younger grew up after the application of pesticides. 

Looking in all the farms, the condition is like this. This year’s station is a calamity. We don’t understand this pest; we don’t even understand the pesticides to use.  Last year, we experienced the same pest, people sprayed but the pest could not die. For instance, look at this maize, some were grown for a long period but because of this situation they have stunted while others have completely died. 

Even if you apply pesticides, they don’t die, they don’t die at all. They continue attacking  maize plants Initially, we thought maybe we applied low dosage, we added the dose with no avail. Even if you repeat, they won’t die.  It is a loss. 

Given the threat of this pest, when they reached in Rwanda and Uganda, the heads of states were forced to use military forces to combat the threat by spraying pesticides from one farm to the next and also by picking and killing the pest from each plant. Regardless these efforts, their effects continued. AFAM is the threat to food securing in the country because their favorite i.e. maize is a staple food for most Tanzanians. 

AFAM is a threat to maize farmers. Some of them have suffered and stressed in an effort to controlling the pest so as to ensure food availability for their families. In search for a proper way to control this pest which  cause worries among farmers, leads to improper usage of pesticides with strong chemicals some of which are hazardous to human health. 

AFAM, not merely Fall ArmyWorms, they are American Fall Army Worms. It’s is an out brake of new pests to plants from American continent. This pest crossed all the oceans and seas and reached Africa, they are not only in Tanzania but in the whole Africa. 

Most often, when farmers meet a new threat, they use all the methods to combat such a threat. Farmers are complaining that they have used all the approaches but they couldn’t not kill theis pest.  They even tried traditional means of combating the pest but also with no avail.  

While looking for the solution to save our maize, we made a short research by apply soap foams. When the foam was apply in the plants, the pests fall from the plant stalks, but they could not die. This is still a challenge to us. 

We applied soil dust, and I have just come from the farm to apply the dust but it seems useless. I would come with ash and apply it on the plants leaves and stems. With this strategy, I could harvest only ½ an acre of of 15 acres.  So, the remaining acres were lost because of this pest. 

At first we saw plant leaves fold, we never bothered, but later we realized there were some eggs. We couldn’  not know what was going on. After a while we saw larva attacking plants. I immediately sprayed pesticide I usually use in cotton.  The pesticide seemed to work because the larva died. But later, the pests appeared again and this time the maize plants were at the flowering stage.  I sprayed for the second time, also the pests died. The plants continued to grow but at tassling   stage the pests appeared on tassles.  I again sprayed pesticides and thought to myself that I have now managed them.  Not knowing, they had attacked the developed cobs. When I realized that the cob was already affected it was too late.  So, the farm that I used to harvest 15- 20 sucks of maize I ended up with only 3 sucks. 

My advice to farmers, they should not wait for the AFAM. If they find any spots on their maize plants, they should go the agroshops for the proper pesticides. There are about four/ five types of pesticides that I know, so they should seek guidance from the shopkeepers on which pesticides to use at what stage as authorized by the TPRI. 

TPRI, after realizing that we are the main stakeholders in this pest (AFAM), the first thing we did was to develop a guide called Fall Armyworm Symptomatic Spray Scheme.  The scheme shows which symptoms should be used with what pesticides. And the second and the third etc. the schemes also guide farmers not to use the same pesticides on different symptoms.  This is the scheme we always go with to farmers and agro officers.  We guide farmers that this pest reaches a stage where only the pesticides that penetrates into the plant is needed. Therefore, TPRI urges farmers not to use more than one pesticide with an assumption that they are controlling the pests. The facts is, mixing pesticides does not kill the pests instead it affects the environment. 

Chemical pesticides for controlling this pest are both hazardous to human healthy and costly yet it doesn’t perform well. In this aspect, FAO recommends the use of biological control. That is the use of bio-pesticides. 

In this regard, FAO has signed a contract with the Tanzanian government to help researches in AFAM. FAO has also given 216 traps and promised to add 300 more. It has also given 250 thousand US dollars to Tanzania government to facilitate research. In collaboration with other international stakeholders, the government has prepared a five year plan which will help to combat the pest. 

Given the attack by this pest in most regions of Tanzania, an impact evaluation is done to establish effects brought by the pest to farmers and their farms as explained  by regional agro officers and experts from the ministry of Agriculture.

Up to date, an evaluation done at the regional level and all district councils indicates that almost 34000 hectors were affected with AFAM, which mainly affected maize plants and other cereal crops.  The 34000 hectors affected by the pest counts a loss of almost 9000 tons of cereal foods including maize.

In Tabora region, the effects caused by the pest are enormous. Although I can’t give actual data on how we have been affected, you have seen yourselves on the farms that we visited that the effect is immense. 

In collaboration with experts from COSTECH, today we have confirmed that this pest is an AFAM. So as I said, we at the regional level together with district officers we shall prepare a program to inform and educate farmers on how to identify and control this pest. 

This is not a one man’s battle; its majority’s including you, the media people. The media must help us to inform the community about this pest. The agro inputs sellers should be aware and be encouraged to sell pesticides for combating this pest. This will make pesticides easily accessed by the farmers.  Also farmers should be inspired to be friendly to their farms which will make them notice any change in their plant. Once the pests are identified, it becomes easier for them to take prompt measures. Otherwise, if this battle is left to an individual, we might find the situation becoming worse for next year. 

Unfortunately, most farmers are not used to spraying pesticides on food crops. They think applying pesticides on food crops leaves some toxins which may even prevent them from taking raw maize.  And even some think, it is of less impotence, not aware they are getting loss of their crops.  So, it is not true that pesticides for controlling AFAM are not there, there are at least five types that I know. 

According to FAO, this pest in America where it originates has been controlled through technologically produced seeds, i.e. transgenic seeds (eg BT maize seeds). These seeds are made to tolerate pests and diseases. For example, in a surprising situation and in good lucky, while Tanzanian researchers were experimenting on the BT maize seeds  in an effort to combat maize pests at MAKUTUPORA agricultural research center in Dodoma through WEMA project, there occurred an out brake of AFAM. The pests attacked all non BT crops and all GM crops were safe. 

The effect of AFAM is seen across the country.    COSTECH and OFAB in their process of providing quality seeds and establishing demonstration farms for better agricultural practices in the country, meet farmers’ cries on the pest.

The COSTECH Director explains this and government’s efforts in combating it. 
As a commission, we are aware there is this challenge. Our research centers are working on it, and positive signs have started to be seen. The challenge is seem to be big but we keep insisting our researchers not to give up.  Since you may produce a quality seed but if it can’t tolerate pests, it’s worth nothing. For ongoing experiments done by our researchers at MAKUTUPORA, positive signs can be seen, though it is still early to give an ultimate solution for this problem. 

AFAM, as it has been reported from other countries worldwide, attacks more than 80 crops. In Tanzania, the pest attacks several crops including maize, cassava, cotton and many other cereal crops which is a threat to farmers. The distraction is fast and wide, as the pest is reported to walk 100km a day.  Farmers explain

They have now started attacking cotton; farms are severely destroyed by the pest. Farmers who planted at the beginning of the season are the one who were mostly affected by the pest. Maybe those who planted late in January could save their farm as by this time we experience heavy rain. 

I sprayed pesticide for the 1st time the pest couldn’t die. When I sprayed for the second time, the pests multiplied and my farm was badly destroyed. Frankly speaking, I gave up. I thought there is no need to continue with cultivating cotton because of my affected farms. These pests are different from the one we used to know. This is a perilous species because it takes almost 28 hour for the pest to die if it contacts pesticides and if not the pest continues with destruction. 

I anticipate famine for the next year because the situation is terrible. This pest is now attacking even cassava. This is a big challenge and we should be prepared for food crisis. 

This pest, mainly attacks maize crops but when the maize started to dry, they immediate move to cotton plants. So it is a challenge. The out brake of AFAM is a threat to food security. This has made many farmers in the country to take precaution against famine. They have started keeping the little they harvest because their cash crops which supplement food crops when there is food shortage are also affected by the pest. 

I speak on behalf of my fellow women.  We mostly depend on farms to run our homes including taking our children to school. But we are now desperate; we don’t know what to do with this pest. We have tried all the means with no avail. 

The situation is worse, and it is even worse to farmers who did not use any pesticide because they did not harvest anything. This year’s pests seem to be more dangerous. Food status is currently a challenge. We are forced to use wisely what we have. If someone used to have three course meals, then, they should be reduced to two.  We used to have various ceremonies and weddings; all these have to be postponed for this year. We agreed as women, that since we are the one who are at home most of the time, to economically use what we have. Otherwise our children will starve. 

Food will be a challenge; For instance, most farmers who planted in August and September sold their stocks hoping to have better harvest in October. Unfortunately, the situation didn’t go as expected; the harvests were poor which has a resulted into an abrupt increase in price from the previous 4000 TSh per tin of 20kg to 7000 Tsh. The situation is terrible, food shortage is obvious. Given our low income, we can’t manage hospital costs, home expenditure, etc. The condition is truly difficult for us. 

In an effort to address drought and maize crop pests, the government through COSTECH is conducting experiments of the technologically produced seeds. I.e. transgenic seeds. Those experiments are done at the Agricultural research centre, MAKUTUPORA in Dodoma region, supported by Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) project. The project collaborates with different stakeholders worldwide including research institutes and Agro input companies. During seed planting exercise, representatives from those collaborators participated and here they air their views on the importance of this technology in solving farmers’ challenges. 

Fall Armyworm’s challenges are huge in our region which is becoming a threat to food security. It needs policy markers, researchers and all stakeholders in agricultural sector to collaborate in coming up with a permanent solution to these challenges.  This will help our farmers to follow better agricultural practices. 
When these shortcomings are accompanied by other challenges such as the presence of rats in different areas that we’ve mentioned, drought or floods may lead or cause small holder farmers to fall into food crisis. COSTECH is the main government advisor on science and technology related issues. In this exercise, the COSTECH acting Director participated full and he explains the importance of this experiment in addressing chronic challenges that draw back farmers’ efforts. 

These transgenic products’ technologies have been solving many problems facing these developing countries. There is no way out pests and droughts are the challenges we must overcome.  The only way is to look for a better strategy to address these challenges. If the government will be satisfied with this technology, we are certain of increasing technology. Basically, farmers are expected to increase their productions and if these transgenic seeds will be tolerant to droughts and pests, we expect to increase production to the extent that smallholder farmers and entire Tanzanian community will be certain of their lives. We thus aim at solving farmers problems.

We want to ascertain ourselves by doing detailed research before allowing farmers to use this technology. Although there are some country, as we were told yesterday, did research and confirmed the technology was worth using. Example South Africa is one of them.  For many years we hear about this technology through the radio, we get motivated that may be this biotechnology can solve this problem since the existence of chronic challenges to farmers, researchers  think that maybe GMO seed  could be of help to farmers to solve their agricultural related challenges  as it has been to other countries in Africa and worldwide. 

The use of GMO seeds in Tanzania is an issue that has raised a debate as it is in other African countries.  While researchers commend that it is the right time to adopt this technology, others mainly activists recommend other methods to be used other than GMO technology.  But what is farmers take on this debate? We are not against this technology, we accept it. We need seeds that will help us, that will be assured of eating. What we need is to be assured of food. Those who are against that technology have money. Look, you cultivate big farm but the harvest is poor, then why shouldn’t we treat it? Why do people get vaccinated? Isn’t t protecting themselves from diseases? So why shouldn’t we protect our maize crops?  What we need is their help, those who are against it are financially stable, and they can even get food from America because they are capable. For us, the poor, we will die if the government won’t intervene.

If there are researchers and scientists who are researching on seeds that are tolerant to diseases and these pests, I think it will be a solution to food crisis and poverty. I think farmers should have high expectations that when this technology will be accept and allowed to be used, farmers’ successes will be high and their main challenges will come to an end.  We are optimistic that this experiment will be complete soon and we shall submit the results to the government to act. Luckily, we have all the machineries e.g. there are rules and laws which think you saw, which guides the entire process. Generally, farmers should hope for the best.

For farmers to use or not to use this technology falls under several ministries, but agricultural issues fall under Dr Charles Tizeeba’s jurisdictions who also sees the importance of research on GMO seeds to be done in the country so as to get prepared to a threat of diseases and chronic pests which affects crops. 

There are contradicting opinions with regard to use of biotechnology in the country and the debate is yet to reach consensus on which direction to take. We can’t stop science, this is a naked truth, we can’t stop it. That is why researches are going on. There is an article from our environmental colleagues that hinders researchers to dwell into real GMO researches. The article talks of strictly liability, that anyone involving himself/herself in GMO researches will be strictly reliable for any effect even after several years. Lawyers, researchers and human right activists are divided on this issue.   If the consensus will be reached on this article, biotechnology now will be open and you will see how people react on this opportunity.

For us in the ministry of agriculture, we are doing biotechnology researches so that we get informed and knowledgeable of it. However, its application will have to wait on the consensus since our researches cut across other sectors.  We shouldn’t move alone and leave other injured. 

FAO recommends the use of GMO seeds because of their ability to tolerate different farmers’ challenges. FAO confirms that GMO foods are safe for both human health and environment since the gene in given seed target specific pests.  According to FAO, in the developing countries where GMO is used, more than 90% of the farmers who use this technology are smallholder farmers and that for only 2016, a total of 185 mil hectors, more than the entire china, were cultivate with GMO crops.  

In Tanzania, Necessary efforts are needed from all agriculture stakeholders to look for a proper solution that will end pests mainly AFAM which threatens farmers yearly. While this is going on, researchers in the country spend sleepless nights in an effort to work out technology that will help farmers address their challenges. This will make farmers to have meaningful farming and will make real agriculture the backbone of the nation.

Mass education should be provided so as every stakeholder is aware of these pests and GMO application methods. This will enable stakeholders to make a collective decision for the benefit of farmers and the nation at large as it has been done in other nations such as South Africa,  Bukna Fasso, and our neighbors Kenya and Uganda. If we don’t decide now, farmers we look for the seeds from their neighbor when the situation will be worse, since we are not an island as said by Dr Tizeeba and other stakeholders.


Like & Share this page