How can the fall armyworm be stopped?

How can the fall armyworm that rages in the maize fields of Kenya be stopped? There is a significant threat of crop failures and hunger. That is why international experts are looking for solutions at the icipe in Nairobi on 21-22 February. Biovision also has two specialists on site.

Peter Lüthi, Martin Grossenbacher, Communication

The fall armyworm originated in America. In January 2016, the moths and their larvae suddenly turned up in Nigeria having presumably stowed away on a ship bound for Africa. The caterpillars are now causing damage in almost every African country south of the Sahara. They are infesting a wide range of plants but in Africa, the greatest concern is the damage to maize, the staple food of more than 200 million people. For example in Zambia, yields have dropped on average by 40 % and in Ghana by 45 %.

statistics on infestation of the worm

Push-Pull protects against fall armyworm

In May 2017, David Okiya from Western Kenya reported to icipe*, the insect research institute that the maize fields using the biological Push-Pull method were largely spared the effects of fall armyworm. In contrast in his other fields, the damage was enormous. Similar reports came from Treza Auma, who lives some 350 kilometres away from David: “My conventional maize fields have been totally overrun by the armyworms whereas the Push-Pull fields of my motherin-law, just 30 metres away, have escaped”.

The Push-Pull method was developed by icipe as a biological way of controlling the stemborer moth. Biovision has supported the spread of this successful method since 2001. Even at that time the results were surprising and it was clear that the legume “desmodium” used in the Push-Pull method was effective not only against the stemborer moth but also the even more damaging striga weed. In the meantime, the insect researchers at icipe have established that desmodium is also effective against the fall armyworm. On average, the incidence of the damaging caterpillars in Push-Pull-fields is 80 % lower than in conventional fields. Push-Pull users are now benefiting from a second stroke of good fortune.

How can the spread of the pest be quickly contained? What solutions other than push-pull are there to save harvests? At the international workshop at icipe on 21-22 February, experts from all over the world will work together to find solutions. Biovision cooperates with two specialists on site.

*International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology

More information in our article from November 17th