Gambia discovers Aggressive Fall Army Worm pest

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) has confirmed to Gambia’s National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) the presence of a dreadful crop destructive pest called Fall Army Worm (FAW) in the country following the agricultural research institute’s discovery of a pest in the country suspected to be FAW.

FAW (Spodoptera frugiperda) specie of caterpillars native to Americas is an alien pest that was observed in more than 20 African countries where it caused rancid destruction to food crops. It is classified to be destructive to maize but can also feed on other crops. 

Delivering an overview presentation about the pest at a sensitisation workshop for National Assembly Members, agricultural communicators and farmers last Saturday, Landing Sonko, director of Plant Protection Services (PPS) said the pest was first observed in The Gambia in Kembujeh, Radville farm and Bakau Women’s garden with a significant damage of 60% observed on maize crop. The sensitisation was organised by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), The Gambia office.

According to statistics, it feeds on 80 different crop species except for Cassava and seriously infests maize. It eats leaves, flowers and fruits of the plant and damages are serious on late planting and late maturing plants. Highly infested fields could have 100% losses.

Mr. Sonko said when the pest was observed at the level of NARI, it was suspected to be Fall Army Worm because it has similar characters. “The result was later confirmed by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) that it was Fall Army Worm. A visit was conducted to some farms and the pest was observed at all the farms visited.” He said they could not yet establish how the crop threatening pest entered the country but it was first observed in West Coast Region. “It has the ability to cover the entire country very quickly,” he said.

The female pest can lay eggs of about 1000 and hatch in 3-5 days (20-30 degree Celsius). Larvae are light green to dark brown with longitudinal stripes. Large larvae are described to be characterized by an inverted Y-Shape on the head.

In The Gambia, maize could be classified as the third staple food after millet. The national production of maize fluctuates year to year.

Dr. Mustapha Ceesay from FAO said there have been some developments in the Africa farm during the last twelve months. He said the pest was first detected in Central and Western Africa in late 2016 and in late 2017; it spread through many other African countries and is expected to spread further.

Dr. Ceesay said the adult FAW is able to move over 1000 km per night and has potential to cause serious harm to food crops. “It is prudent that Gambia become aware of the threats of the pest by sensitising all stakeholders in agriculture. It is also important to prepare national strategic plan to address the pest invasion.”

It is estimated that FAW in Africa has the potential to cause maize yield losses in a range from 8.3 to 20.6 metric tonnes per annum. The value of losses is estimated at between US$ 2, 481 to US$6,187 million. It is expected to spread throughout suitable habitats in mainland Sub-Saharan Africa within the next few cropping seasons.

Dr. Ceesay said in the medium term, FAO will support African countries on their understanding of the FAW and reliable data collection while the long term will be the use of agro-system approach which will include the development of farming systems and innovation of technology system, agronomic practices and biological control.

“FAO supported Agriculture Ministry and staffs were trained on surveillance and it was discovered that FAW was present in small pocket in all the regions in the country. FAO will continue to support the government and the Ministry of Agriculture to fully contain the FAW.”

Director general of Agriculture Sariyang Jobarteh termed FAW as a dangerous trans-boundary pest but said Gambia is making major steps in tackling the risks it pose to crops. “Agriculture Ministry and FAO has established a multi-disciplinary task force. The pest can inflict serious damage on crops in a very short time.”

Mr. Jobarteh said they are still putting down strategies to mitigate the damages of the pest, saying the Agriculture Ministry through the Plant Protection Services will intensify training of farmers and within now and next year, they will be working on addressing the pest.

He said government strategy is now concentrating on how to address any possible damage by the pest, saying intensive farming and media campaign are some of the important activities they will be taking. “We will also mount sensitisations on chemical application on pests because government effort is to ensure that the pest is defeated once and for all.”  

Author: Amadou Jallow