Kenya could lose up to 16.8 million bags of maize, equivalent to half of the country’s annual maize production unless urgent steps are taken to control the Fall Army Worm (FAW).
The pest has already devastated 50, 000 acres of the crop. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries this would amount to Sh50 billion loss.
Kenya produces an estimated 32 million of 90kg bags of maize yearly, but with the invasion of the FAW, the government fears that the normal harvest would be imperiled.
Livestock Principal Secretary, Andrew Tuimur sounded the alarm after touring affected farms in Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Elgeyo Marakwet and Trans Nzoia at the weekend. At least 25 counties in the country have reported presence of the pest that originates from South America.
“Out of the 1.9 million hectares under maize crop in the country, about 800, 000 hectares are under threat while already 200, 000 hectares are affected. If we don’t move fast and control this pest, we will lose about 16.8 million bags. This is half our annual maize production,” Tuimur told the People Daily.
The PS said ongoing control measures are facing major challenges as the FAW— with nocturnal characteristics — hides during the day when spraying is taking place and comes out at night when it is feeding.
“It is not like the normal army worm. It burrows itself into maize stalks and cobs and hides there during the day when spraying is ongoing. It is a nocturnal worm which comes out at night making it difficult for those spraying,” he said.
Tuimur urged affected counties to re-direct some of their resources to buy the prescribed chemicals to bring the pest under control. However, he said the government had released Sh325 million to buy more chemicals.
Last week, it emerged that Kenya may import the foundation seed for next season if measures to combat the invasive pest are not stepped up urgently.
Agriculture experts from Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and officials at the County Government of Trans Nzoia raised the alarm over dwindling pesticide stocks, a situation that could hamper interventions.
Scientists say the FAW multiplies fast with warm dry conditions conducive for egg fertilisation and could cause up to 100 per cent destruction.
Officials at the county told the People Daily the pesticides they bought had run out as the wait for stocks replenishing becomes longer. Meanwhile, the pest is multiplying and advancing to new areas.
Large-scale government seed producers, such as Kenya Seed Company (KSC) and the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), have not been spared by the pest. These companies could be facing an uncertain future if the pest is not controlled quickly.
KSC managing director, Azariah Soi admits the solution lies in the vanquishing of the pest. He says in the initial stages of the interventions, the pest had been brought under control but with the interruption of the long rains, its management had become tedious as the FAW— which is tolerant to most pesticides — looks to wipe out plantations in the affected region.
“It is difficult to control the pest at its larvae stage as a moth. No single pesticide can neutralise the pest once it is at the larvae stage,” he said in a telephone interview.