THE fight against fall armyworms within the East African Community (EAC) has received a major boost following financial aid from the European Commission Directorate for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO).
The EU development cooperation last week provided the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe) €7m/- assistance to combat the fall army worm in Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
The funding is aimed at strengthening the Nairobi- based centre's efforts in the management of the pest, which is wreaking havoc in the region, aggravating a cereals shortage that has seen prices shoot up.
Twenty per cent of the contribution comes from the Centre's core funds by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC); Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida); UK Aid, from the government of the United Kingdom; the Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Kenya; and the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, said a statement posted on Icipe's website.
According to Icipe's Director of Research and Partnership Dr Sunday Ekesi, efforts to fight and control the perilous plant pest through the use of conventional methods, such as use of insecticides had proven to be complicated.
"This is because the adult stage of the pest is most active at night, and the infestation is only detected after damage has been caused to the crop," explained the expert.
He noted that the destructive pest had a diverse range of alternative host plants that enabled its populations to persist and spread.
"Moreover, the fall armyworm has been shown to develop resistance to some insecticides, while the performance of such chemicals is also hindered by limited knowledge and purchasing power of farmers, resulting into use of low quality, and often harmful products," he added.
Since the pest was reported in Africa, the centre had envisioned the development of a science-led, African-context specific sustainable integrated pest management package for the fall armyworm.
In partnership with various stakeholders, the Centre has initiated a range of activities, including capacity for early warning, rapid response and regional preparedness, and damage assessment across various ecologies.
Since January 2016, the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), a very destructive pest that is endemic to the Americas, has been devastating maize and other crops in at least 43 African countries, placing at risk the food and nutrition security, and indeed the very livelihoods, of more than 300 million people.
The larval stage of the fall armyworm feeds on more than 80 plant species, including maize, sorghum, rice, wheat, sugarcane, as well as a variety of horticultural crops, thus threatening food and nutritional security, trade, household incomes and overall economies.
When maize is attacked by the destructive pests, it can lead to 100 per cent crop loss.
Last year, the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) entered into two agreements worth $2million with the then Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture Livestock and Fisheries to boost surveillance of fall army worms.