Potato farmers in Musanze and Burera districts, Northern Province have appealed for urgent help to fight crop pests that are ravaging their plantations, threatening production and food security. Farmers and agronomists say turnip moths (agrotis segetum) and centipedes are destroying their potato gardens, adding that control measures that have been applied so far have failed.
Agrotis segetum is of the noctuid moths species whose larvae attack the lower stems of crops and cut down plants. The larvae’s nocturnal habits make it hard to detect and control, according to experts. Centipedes attack the tubers and make holes in them.
Vincent Havugimana, the president of Rwanda Irish Potato Farmers’ Cooperatives Federation, said the pests are a huge threat to Irish potato production, calling for urgent action to be taken to reverse the trend. Havugimana said the pests have also ravaged potatoes in various areas in the Southern Province, especially in Nyamagabe District. He said though Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) officials have advised farmers to ensure proper crop husbandry, including weeding, the pests have persisted.
Jean Damascène Ndayambaje, a farmer from Muhunda village, Kidakama cell, Gahunga sector in Burera District, said the pests were threatening their livelihood and food security.
He called on authorities to find a sustainable solution to fight the pests, noting that farmers lose almost half of the expected harvest due to the damage caused by the pests. Ndayambaje said farmers harvest about 600 kilogrammes of the crop from a piece of land that should yield one tonne. He said the pests have persisted since 2015, adding that moths attack the potatoes during the dry season.
Kezia Ayinkamiye, a farmer from Kangoma cell, Gahunga sector, said besides the Irish potatoes, the pest also damages beans. She said efforts by farmers to eradicate the pests have so far failed, and called for more support from government to help address the problem “that is threatening to reduce production and affect household income.”
RAB advises on control measures, assures on production
Jeanne Priscille Ingabire, the crop protection specialist at RAB, acknowledged the challenge of the presence of the pests. She said though the situation was bad in December last year, it has since improved. She was optimistic the pests won’t affect production, saying measures were in place, at farmer and national levels, to combat the pests.
She added that Rocket and Hypermethrine pesticides are being used to control the pests. Ingabire advised farmers to also use manual control methods by removing and destroying any pests found in their potato gardens.
RAB department of crop production told The New Times that the total Irish potato output was 30.7 tonnes per hectare this season, noting that the crop was not affected by the pests as claimed by farmers.
However, Havugimana said the 20 potato collection centres across the country, including in Karongi, Musanze and Rubavu districts, supply 200 tonnes of the staple to Kigali city daily. He, however, said the volumes could reduce slightly after the pests attacked Nyabihu and Rubavu districts, the main potato-producing areas in the country.
Triphonie Ugirimpuhwe, the agronomist of Gahunga sector in Burera District, said farmers need to observe good crop husbandry practices to combat diseases and pests, including turnip moths and centipedes. She said Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB) extension staff is always on hand to support and guide farmers on how to eradicate the pests, adding that farmers should always be on the lookout to detect, remove and destroy the pests. She added that domestic birds that can scratch and eat the larvae can also play a big role in controlling the pest.
Ugirimpuhwe said this is one of the main interventions that will help prevent further pest attacks and destruction.