The Fall Army Worm (FAW), a destructive and dreadful crop pest which poses a great threat to food security, was spotted in the Gambia some months ago.
As a result, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nation together with the Plant Protection Unit of the Department of Agriculture and the National Agricultural Research Institute have mounted a nationwide sensitisation of farmers on this serious threat to food security. The nationwide sensitization started from the 23rd and ended on the 29th of January 2018.
The sensitisation team of experts was led by the Director General of the Department of Agriculture. The sensitisation team first went to Fass Njaga Choi in Lower Nuimi District of North Bank Region of the Gambia and visited 15 villages country wide, before ending in Sanyang in the Kombo South District of the West Coast Region. The team had meetings with farmers, agric. officers and local authorities.
In his statement, Dr Mustapha Ceesay of FAO stated that last year, an insect pest called Fall Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) devastated food crops in several countries in west, east, central and southern Africa; that the insect pest feeds on more than 80 crop species, causing damage mainly to cereals like maize, sorghum, rice and vegetable crops. The pest Dr Ceesay said, is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas and that the adult moth has an ability to travel long distances and lays its eggs on plants, from which a larva (caterpillar) hatches and begins to feed on plant tissues. He told farmers, agricultural and local authorities that high infestations can lead to significant yield loss as currently being experienced in Ghana, Kenya and southern Africa.
Alerted by farmers in The Gambia during an FAO field mission in June 2017, he said NARI and Plant Protection Services were encouraged to conduct a field mission to assess the situation and collect specimens of the insect pest causing damage to maize plants in the country; that the specimens of the insect pest causing damage to maize plants was collected and sent to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) for molecular analysis and the pest was identified as the Fall Armyworm. He concluded that the experts from the National Agricultural Research Institute and Plant Protection will explain the description and the protective methods of this deadly pest.
Dr. Faye Manneh from NARI told the Farmers that Fall Armyworm, a native to Americas, is an alien pest that has been observed in more than 20 African countries where it has caused rancid destruction to food crops; that the FALL armyworm is classified to be destructive to maize but can also feed on other crops and called on farmers to increase plant diversity. Dr Faye Manneh told Farmers in all the areas visited, that the pest was first observed in The Gambia in Kembujeh, Radville farms and Bakau Women's garden, with a significant damage of 60% observed on maize crop.
He said the fall armyworm can be recognised by its outer wings of whitish moths patches at the lower outer edges, while their inner wings are white with dark trimmings, the egg masses are cream, grey or whitish with fall felt-like covering; that the caterpillar has a dark head with an upside down pale Y-shaped marking on the front (Blue circle); that each of the body segment has a pattern of four raised spots and its skin looks rough but is smooth to the touch.
Alhagie Gaye from Plant Protection Services, said the pest is devastating in its level of destruction and there is need to enlighten farmers on how dangerous it is and urged them to spread the massage so that people who are not present will be aware especially those who specialize on growing maize.
On the method of fighting the Fall Armyworm, Mr Gaye made it categorically clear to farmers that there are no chemical or biological pesticides that could be effective in fighting the armyworm as of now; that research work is needed to know which chemical is best in controlling the strain of the Fall armyworm. He however said, the pest can be controlled by avoiding late planting, staggered plantings (plots of different ages), increase plant diversity- intercrop maize with cassava, visiting your field to check your crops at least once a week for signs of the fall armyworms, looking for fall armyworm egg masses and caterpillars and destroy them.
The Director General of the Department of Agriculture, Sariyang Jobarteh, indicated that the pest can be one of the most difficult to control in the field and late planted fields and late maturing hybrids are more likely to become infected.
He said the pest can inflict heavy damage on crops within a short time if it is not stopped.
DG Jobarteh asserted that the intensive awareness raising campaign through provincial meetings is part of Government and FAO's strategic plans to educate farmers on how best they can limit the damage inflicted by the worm.