armywormsgross
armywormsgross

As Kenyan farmers wait for the start of the long rains season later this month before they begin planting maize, the country’s staple, many of them are hoping that this time around, the deadly fall armyworm would not attack their crops.

The pest has devastated the important crops for the last two years, heaping losses on the east African nation’s farmers as production costs rise.

Most farmers have relied heavily on pesticides to stop the pest, spraying the chemicals mostly in the evening since the armyworms are nocturnal.

However, these chemicals, according to scientists, have ended up in the environment affecting bio-diversity that include bees which are useful in pollination, and fish in the lakes, ponds and rivers, among others.

To curb the effects of the chemicals on the environment, Kenyan scientists are advocating for the use of eco-friendly ways to stop the pest that is a threat to the east African nation’s food security.

Top on the list of the eco-friendly methods that farmers in Kenya and other parts of Africa can use to eliminate the pest are pheromone traps.

“The traps are not a new invention per se because they have been used to fight other pests like fruit flies, but scientists have found the chemical that attracts the male fall armyworm into them therefore reducing their population on the farm,” Aggrey Magiti, a researcher at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), said on Wednesday.

Magiti said that the pheromone traps, which are triangular in shape, are placed inside the farm, at least four per acre.

“They should be placed as early as possible, preferably just when the maize has germinated as this is the time they are prone to attack from the worms,” he said.

Inside the trap, according to Magiti, are synthetic mating hormones that have the smell of the female armyworms.

“The chemicals lure the male armyworms into the trap where they will die preventing their chances of increasing the population on the farm,” explained Magiti.

Fall armyworms are usually active during the night and that is when they attack the crop most, said the scientist.

“The pheromone should be changed at least every three weeks to make the trap effective in eliminating the worm. With this method, the farm remains chemical-free and the environment is protected,” he said, adding the traps can be removed once the farmer sees the threat has been eliminated.

Kalro is currently encouraging farmers to adopt the biological, eco-friendly method to curb the fall armyworms that have spread across the country.

“Most of those who are using the traps currently are the large-scale commercial farmers but we also want the small farmers to adopt the method because they are the majority. The traps are locally available,” he said.

Other eco-friendly methods farmers in the east Africa nation can use are growing of certified seeds and introduction of insects to feed on the worms.

“Certified seeds are resistant to the pest which is one of the best places a farmer should start when fighting the fall armyworm. These seeds are available in the market and reduce the need to use chemicals unlike those farmers who pick from previous harvest,” said Beatrice Macharia, an agronomist with Growth Point.

Tegemeo Institute, an agricultural think-tank, notes that the pest which was first detected in Kenya in March 2017 has contributed to decline in maize production, with the east African nation harvesting 32 million bags that year from 40 million bags in 2016.

The armyworm, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, is a migratory pest and it undergoes full egg-larva-pupa-adult metamorphosis, with the female laying tiny eggs in masses of 150 to 200 covered by a protective protein sheath, making it hard to eliminate. Enditem

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