The Food and Agriculture of the United Nations has called for a massive scaling up of the Fall Armyworm campaign to train more than 500 000 farmers to manage the pest through Farmer Field Schools in sub-Saharan Africa.
"Fall Armyworm could leave 300 million people hungry in sub-Saharan Africa, having already infested maize and sorghum fields across 44 countries in an area of more than 22 million square kilometres - the combined area of the European Union, Australia and the United States," said Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa on the sidelines of a resource partners' meeting in Rome.
"We are particularly concerned about the disastrous impact the pest can have on countries already facing crises."
According to the UN agency, Fall Armyworm keeps spreading to larger areas within countries in sub-Saharan Africa and becomes more destructive as it feeds on more crops and different parts of crops, increasingly growing an appetite for sorghum and millet, in addition to maize.
According to FAO, the pest could spread to Northern Africa, Southern Europe and the Near East, warned the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization and that the organization has invested more than $9 million from its regular budget, and mobilized $12 million for its Fall Armyworm programmes.
"Despite significant contributions from resource partners and governments, there is still a significant financial gap. While we commend contributions made by a wide range of resource partners, including from those African countries affected by the pest, there is a need to urgently fill a critical gap of $23 million to allow FAO effectively support countries in addressing Fall Armyworm challenges in 2018," Tijani said.
A release from FAO noted that the pest first appeared in Africa in 2016, in West Africa and that it has quickly spread across sub-Saharan Africa, leaving now only 10 countries (mostly in northern Africa) not infested.
The release further that smallholders, representing almost all of the tens of millions of maize farmers in sub-Saharan Africa, were worst affected by Fall Armyworm, and any further damage inflicted by the pest would have drastic consequences on their lives.
"For example, if 20 percent of their annual maize yield was lost to Fall Armyworm, it would result in a deficit of 16 million tonnes of maize, worth nearly $5 billion."
"In 2017, FAO and partners built a solid line of defense against the pest," Tijani said.
"We have developed tools and put measures into place to tackle Fall Armyworm - from training farmers and extension workers on how to apply "local remedies" such as collecting Fall Armyworm larvae killed by naturally occurring pathogens, making a mixture of these pathogens and applying them on the infested crops to kill the pest, to equipping them with mobile apps so they can recognize their new foe faster, and get immediate advice on how to manage it," he added.
"Farmers trained in Fall Armyworm management can now detect infestations earlier, are able to protect their crops better, and report less damage. The foundation is there. We just need to build on it - train over 500 000 farmers through 20 000 Farmers Field Schools across sub-Saharan Africa this year, support highly vulnerable countries where Fall Armyworm is widespread and capacity to manage it is low, develop resources in local languages, and get governments up to speed on sustainable Fall Armyworm measures, such as the use of bio-pesticides," said Tijani.