Farmers Struggle to Fight Fall Armyworms, Experts Push for Bio-Tech Varieties

Memba Memba - pic by Christopher Sande

Problems after problems. Winter cropping farmers are now enduring another pain. After being subjected to cyclone Freddy which swept away crops and livestock early this year, farmers are still struggling.

Fall army worms have attacked maize fields and farmers are panicking.

Our visit to some parts in Chikwawa revealed that some farmers are using both chemicals and indigenous knowledge methods in an attempt to curb fall army worms.

We meet a 35-year-old man, Manda Memba from Khungubwe village in the area of Traditional Authority Ngowe. He tells us that fall army worms have attacked his maize field and surrounding gardens.

“I have been buying chemicals at K15, 000 several times. I also use other local methods like leaves of neem trees to fight the worms. We want the government to come up with strong and sustainable ways to deal with fall army worms,” said Memba.

The farmer added that the worms have been affecting his yields for some years now saying initially he was harvesting more than 15 bags of maize but now is getting less than six bags.

He further called on authorities to introduce irrigation farming in the area in order to achieve food security and economic development. “We are now using shallow wells near Shire river to draw and water our crops,” the farmer explained.

Another woman, Elizabeth M’mame from Chibwana village in Mchiramwera area from Thyolo shares Memba’ sentiments. She says apart from neem, she has also been using various local methods to contain fall army worms. M’mane cites the use of pepper.

“We pluck green pepper, dry it and later crush it, we then put it in a one litre bottle of water and later mix it with additional nine litres of water and wait for 12 hours. We then take it and apply it on our maize farms to kill the fall army worms,” said M’mame.

The challenges that farmers are facing come when Malawi’ Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number two aims to end hunger, achieve food security, improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030.

Apart from Malawi, fall army worms have in the recent past been attacking maize fields in various countries in Africa including Zambia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Crop researcher, Dr Isaac Nyoka says there is need to promote integrated pest management practice to deal with fall armyworms that have been causing problems in Africa since 2016.

“Resistant maize seed is a better option but it takes about seven years to develop a new variety, so for now it is ideal to use a healthy maize plant, apply fertilizer and weeding. Ecological approaches are also vital to reduce the population of the worms in maize gardens,” said Dr Nyoka.

On her part, Deputy Director of Crop Protection in the Ministry of Agriculture, Aida Mwato agrees that it will take long for the country to wipe out fall army worms.

She says apart from promoting agro-ecological approaches like inter-cropping and mulching, they are now validating indigenous knowledge ways in trying to minimize the damages that fall armyworms cause on maize crop.

“It is a pest that we cannot eradicate at once. Currently, we have validated several local methods and we see that the leaves of Neem tree are already working,” said Mwato.

She adds that the worms damage maize leaves, consequently disturbing photosynthesis which in turn reduces the yield.

An expert from Bvumbwe Research Station, Dr Stephen Nyirenda, says fall army worms reduce maize harvest by around 60 percent.

“Assuming a farmer harvests 100 bags on a hectare, attacks by fall army worms reduce the harvest to 40 bags,” stated Dr Stephen Nyirenda.

A Senior Molecular Biologist at Lilongwe University for Agriculture and Natural Resources, (LUANAR) Dr Abel Sefasi says bio technology is a way to go.

Dr Sefasi says the university has written the regulator, Bio Safety Authority to give them a go ahead to come up with maize varieties that are drought tolerant and be in a position to fight fall army worms in the country.

“We have written the regulator and following the laws of Malawi, they may approve for us to do the science.

“It takes time and what I have to say here is that, it is not only Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), but every variety, before you give it to people, you have to be sure that the variety is good,” said Dr Sefasi.

He further explained that all the varieties that are available today were not developed overnight, hoping to have the new varieties in three years’ time.

An official from Bio Safety Authority, Dr Lilian Chimphepo tells us that they are currently waiting for the committee to approve LUANAR’s proposal to develop new maize varieties in Malawi.

Currently, Malawi’ Food Security Outlook, April 2023 revealed that food security outcomes are likely going to persist through September in most parts of the southern region because of cyclone Freddy.

It further says that the 2022/2023 production season in the country will likely be below average particularly for the maize crop, which contributes 70 percent of the national food requirement.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 25/07/2023

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