Maize farmers in Western Kenya are in panic mode following Fall Armyworm outbreak that is threatening to clear 100 per cent of their newly planted crop
Speculations about the origin of Fall Armyworm in Africa
Speculations are rife about the origin of the pest which is only few months in the continent, with some experts worried that the pest could have been artificially breaded by economic opportunities in order to create market for their pest resistant maize varieties.
Recently, the Kenyan parliament dealt a blow to efforts by genetically modified crusaders who were hoping to officially launch Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) maize in the country.
According to experts at the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), Bt maize t has the ability to control certain insects that damage maize plants as a result of a gene derived from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a soil dwelling bacterium.
Through biotechnology, the Bt gene becomes part of the plant where it produces a protein or toxin that allows the plant to protect itself from insect pests without being frequently drenched with expensive chemical sprays that are harmful to humans and the environment.
A controversial US multinational firm Monsanto which is operational in Kenya has also claimed to have maize varieties resistant to pests including the Fall Armyworm
About Fall Armyworm
The fall armyworm is a highly polyphagous migratory lepidopteran pest species. It can colonize over 80 different plant species including many grasses, and crops such as alfalfa, soybean, sorghum, and corn
Fall armyworms are similar in size and shape to other moths in the cutworm family.
They are grayish in color with a wingspan of about 1.5 inches. The front wings of the male are a mottled grayish color with white markings near the wing tips. The front wings of the female are similar, but the markings are less distinct.
Fall armyworm eggs are laid in clusters of 50 or more in a single layer attached to foliage.
Eggs are dome-shaped and dirty white to gray in color.
After egg deposition, the female deposits grayish scales over the egg mass, giving it a hairy or moldy appearance.
A Fall Armyworm has a life cycle of 35-61 days. An adult Fall Armyworm can migrate hundreds of kilometers in search of warmer climate.
The adult female Fall Armyworm lays up to 200 eggs on an immature crop, preferably of grass species like maize. The eggs hatch within 3-5 days with the larvae emerging in a span of 14-28 days.
After developing, the larvae crawl to the ground to pupate in the soils for 7-14 days. The moth lives as an adult for only 11-14 days before migrating to start a new cycle.
Fall armyworm generally feeds on foliage, but during heavy infestations, larvae will also feed on corn ears.
Foliar damage to corn is usually characterized by ragged feeding, and moist sawdust-like frass near the whorl and upper leaves of the plant.
Early feeding can appear to be similar to European corn borer damage; however European corn borer larvae bore into the stalk whereas fall armyworm larvae continue to feed on the foliage making larger more ragged holes.
Ear damage is similar to the damage caused by the corn earworm, chewed kernels and visible frass, except that fall armyworm tends to burrow through the husk instead of feeding down through the silks.
Fall armyworm larvae can be difficult to control due to the timing of infestation. Although chemicals insecticides like PrevathonR can be used, they are not as reliable as transgenic seed varieties like Bt maize
Thumbs up for Kakamega County
In the event of outbreak, Kkamega County has since set aside Sh3 million for purchase of chemicals to help control the pest’s spread.
According tocounty’s agriculture boss Kulati Wangia, they have started organizing public barazas to create awareness and give farmers tips on how to stop the pest from spreading further and causing more harm
If the pest is not controlled effectively, it is likely to dent the country’s maize harvest, worsening the food shortage in Kenya even as households retail 2 kilo of maize flour for up to Sh150