Francistown — The invasive pest, Fall armyworm has the potential to wipe out crops such as maize and threaten food security if not properly managed.
The pest which originates from the Americas first appeared in Botswana in 2017 after causing massive damage to crops in neighbouring Zambia with losses amounting to forty tonnes of maize.
The Head of Pest Management at the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security, Mr Kuate Sebua explained this on June 5 during a media engagement seminar to raise awareness on the pest among journalists.
The pest, he added, is now found in all SADC members states except Lesotho due to the fact that it does not thrive in high altitude areas.
He also mentioned that in Africa, the pest is anticipated to contribute to losses amounting to over 50 per cent of maize production if not controlled.
This, he noted, might lead to job losses, especially in seed manufacturing companies and within the agricultural sector.
He said the pest attacks maize, sorghum, groundnuts and cowpeas.
However, Mr Sebua said that the pest likes maize, adding that it can fly long distances of 100km per night and 2000km per lifetime.
As a management strategy, he indicated that weeding, the use of fertilizers and bio-pesticides is recommended.
Unlike the African armyworm, Mr Sebua mentioned that the pest is deadly as it appears annually.
"The African armyworm is mostly prevalent during years when we receive plenty of rainfall," he noted.
He also added that since its outbreak government has come up with interventions to inform the public.
Consequently, he mentioned that the ministry has issued pesticides to rural farmers to cut transport cost for farmers.
In addition, he said they issued sprayers and protective clothing to farmers in areas where the pest occurred.
The pest, he asserted, occurred in most parts of the country except in Kgalagadi.
Furthermore, he noted that 50 agricultural demonstrators were taken for capacity building outside the country in places where the pest appeared to learn more about its management.
The District Agricultural Coordinator in the North East district, Mr Nkaigwa Joel said the media engagement was part of government efforts to manage the Fall armyworm.
This, he added, forms part of the awareness campaigns that the ministry has embarked on, including building the capacity of the media to report factually on the pest.
Mr Joel noted that Botswana was not spared from the effects of climate change which has seen the prevalence of a variety of pests.
"In 2010 there was an outbreak of the fruit fly in Chobe, 2016 brought the tomato leave miner while the Fall armyworm arrived in 2017,"he said.
While the movement of fruits facilitates the movement of some pests, Mr Joel highlighted that the Fall armyworm can fly long distances across borders.
The Head of Phytosanitary, Ms Patience Mawere explained that surveillance and monitoring help the ministry to detect the presence of the pest or its build up in order to determine its management.
Furthermore, she said they also scout its presence at the fields through using pheromone traps.
Ms Mawere explained that they also use traps and highlighted that high catches of ten and above over consecutive nights indicate chances of an outbreak.
"Farmers can also scout and if 20 out of 100 plants have damaged leaves and there is presence of the caterpillars, control measures should be initiated," she explained.
On other issues, she asserted that trapping the pests helps them as they exchange information with other countries on the likelihood of an outbreak.
For his part, the head of the Fall armyworm pest awareness campaign, Mr Balosang Mmusi said media engagement was necessary in the fight against the pest.
The media, he noted was a critical stakeholder in agricultural development, arguing that the success of agricultural programmes depends on the mass media to mobilise people.
Research on the pest, he added, has to be easily understood by farmers to boost food security.
"The media is important in transferring agricultural information to the people. In cases where there is no collaboration this has an impact on farmers as they miss out on key information," he said. Agriculture, he added, is still critical in a developing country like Botswana.
The dissemination of agricultural knowledge, Mr Mmusi explained, is very important as beneficiaries such as farmers rely on the media to get information.
He also mentioned that science reporting is key to exposing and educating farmers, noting that they were deep rooted factors which kept the reporting of agricultural information in the margins.
Most of the journals which contain useful information for farmers, he highlighted, are not accessible to them.
"It is up to journalists to dig this information and deliver it to the relevant audience," he said.
In this regard, he noted that as one of their objectives, they wanted farmers to understand what the Fall armyworm is and the threat it posses to food security.
Mr Mmusi explained that the pest is of economic importance as it can destroy the entire agricultural sector.
Farmers, he added, need information on how to control and manage the pest and to also know where to seek help in case of an outbreak.
Source : BOPA