Joint bid to save farmers from crop ravaging armyworms

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Rwanda Defence Forces and Rwanda National Police have joined the fight against Fall Army Worms to protect farmers against maize loss caused by the pest. (Courtesy photos)

Fall Army Worm (FAW) – a type of crop pest– has infested farmers’ crops mainly maize, leaving them worried over ever recouping their investment and generally raising concerns of food security in the country.

This pest outbreak in Rwanda has made agriculture officials look in different directions for measures to contain the crop-destructive agents to support farmers.

Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) says that if no timely intervention is made, the FAW outbreak may lead to the total loss of crop yield especially cereals such as maize, wheat, rice and sorghum, leading to food insecurity in the country.

On April 5, the Minister for Agriculture and Animal Resources, Gerardine Mukeshimana informed the cabinet that agriculture season 2017 B – which started in February 2017 and ends in July – was progressing well, save for the outbreak of army worms that were destroying grain crops.

According to the minister, this outbreak has so far been reported in 108 sectors (among 416 of the country) in 23 districts (out of 30 districts), where they had so far infected 15,699 ha of maize and sorghum crops.

That affected area represents 24.7% of the total area of 63,499ha on which maize and sorghum are planted countrywide, according to RAB.

The adult moth lays eggs on the surface of leaves, which hatch after 2-3 days.  The resultant larvae (caterpillars) feed on leaves causing damage.

The president of maize farmers’ cooperatives federation (FCMR), Evariste Tugirinshuti, told The New Times that the army worms first infested maize and later sorghum and that they were  resistant to the pesticides they were using.

“There is a need for research to establish exactly what caused the pest, and spray pesticides to fight the pest because it makes farmers encounter losses,” he said.

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The Fall Army Worms after pesticide had been sprayed onto them. 

RAB’s Director General Mark Cyubahiro Bagabe said that since the pest spreads rapidly, they have rallied different partners including Rwanda Defence Forces, the National Police,  among others, to help contain the deadly pest.

Interventions, he said, include integrated management methods, physical and chemical measures, provision of field equipment (manual and motorized sprayer pumps, protective gear) and pesticides, mainly Profenofos 40% EC+Cypermethrin 4%,  among others. 

RDF intervention

On April 14, RDF, in collaboration with other government partners including MINAGRI and the Ministry of Local Government (MINALOC), launched a countrywide operation aiming at eradicating the Fall Army Worm.

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Rwanda Defence Force soldiers join Kicukiro residents in a campaign to halt armyworms threatening maize crops.

The Acting RDF Spokesperson, Lt Col Rene Ngendahimana, told The New Times that they joined the operation after realising the threat to food security the country faced if the pest is not contained.

“It is within the spirit of RDF. We normally do our best so that issues such as that which affect the people get addressed.”

RDF soldiers have been working with farmers in spraying the pesticides so as to eradicate the pest from farmers’ fields.

The pesticide (Pyrethrum EWC+) being used has been designed and is produced by SOPYRWA; a Ministry of Defence-affiliated company that is based in Musanze District.

Ngendahimana said RDF used its aircraft so as to speed up the supply of pesticides in all parts of the country where it is needed.

“The pest has spread across the country. Using a car to deliver pesticide from Musanze, to say,  Eastern Province, then to Western Province, was taking longer, yet the assistance was needed as soon as possible to salvage what we can which led us to use the RDF aircraft,” he said.

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A farmer shows a maize crop destroyed by the armyworm.

Community effort

According to RAB, districts have developed roadmaps for community work (umuganda) involving hand-picking and chemical application on infested crops. Different interventions were conducted such as preparations and mapping of all affected areas, including consolidated sites and small-scale farms.

“As usual, RDF has also come in bolster the efforts providing manpower on the ground throughout the whole country and rapid delivery of required insecticides using helicopters. As such, it has been possible to replenish supplies in real time,” Bagabe said.

On April 4, MPs commended the effort by the ministry to spray the pestcide but noted that there was need for more robust intervention to help farmers salvage their harvest.

The latest outbreak of the  Fall Army Worm, known by its scientific name Spodoptera frugiperda, an invasive pest was first reported in West Africa in January 2016.  Between December 2016 and March 2017, RAB says that the pest was reported in several countries in Southern Africa (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia), Central Africa (DR Congo) and Eastern Africa (Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda).

Figures from MINAGRI show that over 374,000 tonnes of maize were produced in 2016, while expected maize produce in 2017 agriculture season A was over 781,000 tonnes.

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A view of the Fall Army Worms as they eat away maize leaves. The pests severely damage maize and other cereal crops.

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