With discovery of Fall Army Worm, Gambian Agriculture faces monumental task

Thursday, December 28, 2017

It will be ludicrous to suggest that the discovery of Fall Army Worm (FAW) pest in The Gambia is not alarming; therefore our agricultural industry faces a daunting task to deal with the situation.

After the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) had confirmed to Gambia’s National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) the presence of this destructive pest, all we need is an immediate action to blunt their effects. 

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. 

Agricultural experts 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.

Fall army worm can be one of the more difficult insect pests to control in field corn. Late planted fields and later maturing hybrids are more likely to become infested. Fall army worm causes serious leaf feeding damage as well as direct injury to the ear.

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. 

While fall army worms can damage corn plants in nearly all stages of development, it will concentrate on later plantings that have not yet silked. Like European corn borer, fall army worm can only be effectively controlled while the larvae are small. Early detection and proper timing of an insecticide application are critical. 

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.

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.

Control needs to be considered when egg masses are present on 5% of the plants or when 25% of the plants show damage symptoms and live larvae are still present. Controlling larger larvae, typically after they are hidden under the frass plug, will be much more difficult, experts said.

“We farm workers are closest to food production. We were the first to recognize the serious health hazards of agriculture pesticides to both consumers and ourselves.”

Cesar Chavez