How we adapted our programs in Ethiopia to respond to the Fall armyworm crisis

How we adapted our programs in Ethiopia to respond to the Fall armyworm crisis

Since 2012, we’ve been on air in Ethiopia in partnership with four radio stations to discuss quality protein maize, a variety of maize that offers a complete protein to both people and livestock who consume it.

Amhara, Oromia, SNNPR and Tigray are the four regions responsible for 90% of maize production in Ethiopia, making these important regions for food and nutritional security in the country, particularly for women and children. Broadcasters from Dimtsi Woyane Tigray, Amhara Mass Media Agency, Oromia Radio and TV Organization and SNNPR Mass Media Agency have been sharing information about this new variety of maize.

We work closely with these broadcasters to plan programs that are interesting, informative, answer farmers’ questions and share farmers’ experiences. This project even added a cooking show format so that listeners could hear just how delicious quality protein maize is. We know that to convince small-scale farmers to switch to a new variety of a staple crop, they need to be confident in the taste.

But in June, this hard work was derailed as the Fall armyworm spread to these four maize-growing regions. The Fall armyworm was first spotted on an irrigated maize farm in February 2017, and in less than four months it had spread to all the major maize growing regions of the country.

It thus became an important topic of discussion for everyone involved in the project. Everyone agreed that the existing radio project needed to switch gears to respond to farmers’ need for information on the Fall armyworm, and to amplify the efforts of the government response.

Zelalem Nega is our country representative in Ethiopia. He says, “Without a doubt, the Fall armyworm is a pest that poses a serious challenge to small-scale farmers of Ethiopia who are growing maize and other cereals, not only due to its propensity for destruction, but largely due to the lack of knowledge and experience related to the pest, as it is new to the country.”

He explains that farmers often confused this armyworm with another armyworm that is native to the region, making recognition and awareness an important first topic for the radio programs to discuss.

The Fall armyworm is new to Africa, arriving in West Africa in early 2016. This voracious eater reproduces quickly, can travel up to 100 kilometres per night, and eats 80 different plant species, but loves maize (corn) the most. It is estimated that this foreign invader will cause up to $13 billion US in damage to maize crops.

In Ethiopia, a four week series was planned to give farmers important information for managing this invasive pest. This started with learning how to identify the Fall armyworm and how it differs from the African armyworm that farmers are used to managing. The second week discussed the extent of the damage of the Fall armyworm: what farmers were seeing and what might be expected. Then, the discussion turned to how farmers can protect their fields from Fall armyworm. This included hearing from farmers to learn what their experience has been with managing this invasive pest.

The radio program also took advantage of an interactive voice response system (IVR) to collect the comments and concerns of farmers. In just two weeks, Farm Radio heard from more than 500 callers, sharing these comments and questions with broadcasters and experts.

This work was a coordinated effort with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, as well as the agricultural bureaus of the four regional governments.

Already, the Fall armyworm has damaged a portion of the maize in the southern regions of Ethiopia and millions of hectares across Africa. Fortunately for Ethiopian farmers, who experienced a severe drought in 2016, this year’s weather has been good and a bumper crop is expected, despite losses from the Fall armyworm. But the Fall armyworm is in Africa now, and will continue to threaten maize harvests for seasons to come. And so good information is necessary give farmers the tools they need to protect their farms and their food security in the seasons to come.

The Nutritious maize for Ethiopian children project was funded by Global Affairs Canada.

Learn more about how our radio partners are supporting their rural listeners.

In Uganda, Radio Kitara was on air for eight weeks to discuss the Fall armyworm, hearing from many farmers who are already spotting the caterpillar in their fields. Hear from the farmers who tuned into this program.

In Ghana, broadcasters like Gideon Sarkodie have bene providing farmers with information from experts. They have also used short jingles to provide farmers with tips they can easily remember. Learn more about Farm Radio’s work in Ghana to support farmers facing the Fall armyworm.

After drought and the Fall armyworm devastated maize harvests in Nakaseke, Uganda, Nakaseke Radio knew their listeners needed up-to-date information to ensure they got a better harvest the next season. Learn what they have been sharing on air.

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