Farmers across the country have called on the government, scientists and other stakeholders to urgently intervene and find a lasting solution to the armyworm invasion ravaging the farms.
As farmers flee their farmlands due to increasing insecurity across the country, another set of invaders are on the loose, and farmers are apprehensive, as this might threaten food security if not checked.
Farming activities and crop production have been threatened by the menaces of Boko Haram, herdsmen militia, boundary clashes between neighboring communities and in addition to these, maize farmers have been battling with fall armyworms in the last few years.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation, Fall Armyworm is an insect native to tropical and sub-tropical regions of the Americas and was first detected in some West African countries in early 2016. This invasive insect happens to be a very destructive trans-boundary pest that spreads due to the high volume of trade between countries.
From research into the insect’s biological characteristics, FAO noted that it is the larva that causes the damage and as the adult female moth finds more host plants to reproduce on, the possibility of spread becomes immensely high. Unlike the native African armyworm, which is native to the continent and has natural biological enemies (predators and parasitoids alike), the Fall Armyworm arrived the continent unaccompanied by its natural enemies, allowing its population to fester largely unchecked.
Farmers in the Southwest and now some part of the North-Central have complained that these invasive pests are gradually encroaching into their farms and are crying out to scientists and the government for assistance. Mr. Hassan Adejumo, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Foodies Farmyard, in an interview with The Guardian, confirmed the invasion of fall armyworms in his 160-acre farm in Oyo State.
“In a plantation consisting of maize, cassava, watermelon, cucumber, yam, and pepper, the invasive pest only seemed to restrict its attack on the maize field,” he said. Mr. Hassan said that the damage was not significant as the attack was discovered about fourth to the fifth week after cultivation and it was immediately controlled chemically by using cypermethrin and profenofos pesticides.
In another conversation with Mr. Segun Olaomi, an agro-allied scientist, he confirmed that three weeks after the cultivation of maize, fall armyworms were detected. He said 1000-hectare farmland was cultivated in Niger State and due to early detection of the pests, the destructive effects were minimal and combative measures were immediately put in place.
Fortunately, maize plants can significantly recover from early growth stage foliage damage and short duration defoliation.Mr. Olaomi opined that to reduce yield loss, the further spread was curtailed by spraying Miamectin, a type of pesticide deemed to be effective against the pests. Had the pest been allowed to fester, it would lead to wholesome foliage destruction, as the pest would curl up in the whorl of the plant, where it feeds on the leaves, affecting cobs development. Therefore, it is advisable that close supervision is a must during the early stages of cultivation.
The effect of the pest could be detrimental to farmers, annual yield production, consumers, export ratio and invariably the economy. The farmer will bleed financially, as whatever percentage loss from the capital invested (resulting from the reduction in crop yield) would leave a stamp in his proposed profit margin. Reduction in harvest, on the other hand, would affect the market, as the economics of supply and demand would take its toll. Thus, with the reduction in yield, market demand would become higher than supply, invariably leading to hike in price, hence inflation.
Importation of maize for industrial purposes may become inevitable considering the volume of maize the country uses in animal feeds, corn flakes, and other confectioneries. One Mrs. Yemisi Adenike, a local farmer at Remo North in Ogun State, stated that she had not heard of Fall Armyworms before but according to her, during the last planting season, perforations were seen all over the leaves of the maize plants and her maize plantation underperformed due to attacks by worm-like looking insects.
“After the low harvest and since I did not have enough money to buy pesticides to fight the leaf attackers, I had to leave the land to be overgrown by grass, after which I burnt the whole farmland to kill them,” she said. Asked if there had been any form of assistance from the government to curb the outbreak, Mr. Hassan said that he had no idea of such, as no assistance had got to him yet.
The farmers called on the government ministries and parastatals overseeing agricultural activities in the country to create proper awareness, as lack of timely information to the grass-root farmers could be more destructive than the unfamiliar pests.Mr. Hassan said that the government should monitor the outbreak and make sure their extension agents get the information and control measures to farmers.
Agricultural extension workers should also be well educated on the insect’s life cycle, habits, movement, and reproductive pattern, as this information will help curb practices that aid their growth and spread. Also, resistant varieties should be provided to the farmers, he said.
Also, due to effects of climate change, which have invariably affected the rainfall pattern across the country, farmers tend to engage in late planting and staggered cultivation (planting of fields at different dates in the same area). It is most important to note that this practice aids movement and spread of this insect, as food is invariably available to it at a different part of the given locality and at different times. Thus, both practices should be avoided as strictly as possible. In addition, adequate moisture and good soil health should be maintained, as both are very essential to grow plants, which withstand pest infestation and damage.
A Cross section of farmers interviewed, who preferred anonymity, agreed that the outbreak is negatively affecting them and that the government needs to come to their aid.
On the way out, Hassan said the government should subsidize pesticides used in controlling these invasive pests. “And, being a scholar of crop protection and environmental biology, I suggest that the government should train farmers on the biological and organic way of fighting this pest, as excessive use of chemicals is not good for the soil and human health,” he added. Therefore, health-friendly agriculture should be encouraged.