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Food security under threat of new Army Worm species

Kenya’s food security faces a huge threat following the discovery of a new species of the Fall Army Worm (FAW), scientists have warned.

Researchers have raised concern over emergence of a new pest Southern Army Worm (Spodoptera eridania) which is said to be more dangerous than the current FAW and that might plunge the country further into a food crisis.

Zakary Kinyua, a crop health researcher at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), warned that the new pest has already been reported in four African countries – Gabon, Cameroon, Nigeria and Benin.

It is said to be affecting potatoes, cassava, sorghum, broccoli and amaranth and soon due to its migratory style it will find its way to the East African region and to a large extent Kenya. The new pest, he said, has similar characteristics of the current FAW that has already led to the Sh3.5 billion food losses.

Already as at the end of April 2018, FAW has affected more than 160,000 hectares and it is feared once the long rains cease, the pest might cause more harm to the current crop.

“During the 2017 April-May period, 250,000 Ha of maize crop was affected. While fiscal losses incurred reached 1.05 million 90-kg bags worth Sh3.15 billion. As at May 2018 the pest has been reported in 43 out of 47 counties. Though the season is still young,” said Kinyua.

Kinyua, who was speaking during a FAW stakeholders’ meeting at Kephis headquarters, said even though the government and private sector players are fast-tracking measures to tame the current pest, more than 80 plant species are at risk of being affected, a situation that can result into acute food shortage.

Kinyua said Sh1 billion is required to finance interventions being pursued such as direct management, knowledge and technological gaps interventions.

Farmers in other subsectors, for instance avocado, rice, wheat, and sorghum, are at risk of losing their yields to the pest as research indicates it has started attacking the said crops.

Agriculture Cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri said the government will spend more than Sh600 million to fight the FAW this season but the resources will be increased to more than Sh1 billion.

“We have also formed a multi-institutional technical team consisting of government, local and international research institutions to mitigate the pest. The infestation and damage after the current long rains season is feared to be high and widespread. Considering that we lost 20 per cent of the last year crop representing more than Sh3 billion,” said Kiunjuri.

“This is a problem that must be fought with determination and zeal by all the agriculture players if aspirations of Kenya becoming food sufficient are to be realised,” he said.

The CS called on the researchers to intensify their work in order to find out the hosts of the pest once maize harvest is concluded.

“We must find out where the pest hibernates once maize is harvested. This way, it will be easier for us to curtail its spread to other crops,” he noted.

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