Maize farmers are worried about a fresh outbreak of fall armyworm, saying it could affect the productivity of maize if not tackled in time.
Fall armyworm - also known as FAW - is the maize eating and destructive pest.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has also weighed in, saying that farmers need timely support through integrated pest management.
Evariste Tugirinshuti, the president of maize farmers' cooperatives federation in Rwanda, told The New Times that contrary to last year when the armyworms did not have big impact on maize produce, this year it might be widespread.
"In the farming season of last year, we lost about 5 per cent of production. But, based on the current FAW infestation level, the yield loss will be higher (up to 50 per cent) in the current farming season if it is not contained," he said.
A view of maize crop affected by fall armyworm in Musanze District last week. This crop eating pest can cause major yield losses if not controlled, according to UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation. Courtesy.
He added that last year the pest's invasion started when the maize was relatively grown but now it has struck at the early stages of the season.
In the current farming season which started in September through February 2020, Tugirinshuti said that the federation, which comprises 115 cooperatives and more than 32,700 members, has grown maize on over 31,2700 hectares in 11 districts across the country.
On efforts to tackle the pest, Tugirinshuti said that farmers have attempted to control the spread of FAW by spraying but only a few can afford it.
"Some farmers cannot afford pesticides. When they do not get them in time, they lose the fight against fall armyworm," he said.
Dr Patrick Karangwa, Director-General of Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), said the Government will continue to provide support to farmers.
"The Government has a strategic stock of pesticides to be applied in case of an outbreak and has started providing rapid intervention," he said.
Some farmers have been sensitised on how to deal with the outbreak, he added.
RAB's Crop Protection Specialist, Priscille Ingabire, said that, so far, the affected districts include Nyagatare, Kirehe, Rubavu and Musanze.
They are all being monitored, she said.
"Monitoring the field is the best approach as it helps the farmer to identify the pest while it is still in the early stage," she said.
Last year, FAO warned that, if left unchecked, FAW could push more than 300 million people into hunger and lead to annual economic losses of up to $4.8 billion from maize production alone.