In Malawi, farmers have already been hit hard by Fall armyworm. In August, farmers had reported more than 140,000 hectares of maize ravaged by the foreign invader.
A Fall armyworm outbreak has been declared in more than 28 African countries, where it breeds quickly. It is a caterpillar that eats more than 80 species of plant, but is particularly damaging to maize crops – a staple food in Malawi and other African countries.
Damage has been severe. Where the Fall armyworm has been spotted, it’s harmed more than 35% – and in some areas more than 60% – of maize crops.
Farmers have been experimenting with biological and chemical insecticides, but to be most effective, farmers need to apply the right amount at the right time of day – and they need to do it in a way that’s safe for them and their families.
Farm Radio Trust (Farm Radio International’s affiliate in Malawi) has been supporting farmers with informative radio programs broadcast by partner stations throughout the country. It is also just one phone call away for anyone with questions on how to best fight the Fall armyworm.
The Mlimi Hotline Call Centre was recently established by Farm Radio Trust to answer farmers’ questions on any topic. The service is promoted on the radio, and was initially mainly fielding calls about soybean and peanuts, two cash crops for Malawian farmers.
The call centre is staffed by graduates from the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, as well as experienced agricultural extension development officers. Farmers simply dial 8111 and ask their question. Call agents may pass along complex questions to other knowledgeable experts, and then pass the answer back to the farmer.
Joyce Kaliwo is Mlimi Hotline Call Centre Manager. She says, “Frequently asked questions are also amplified through the existing radio programs, which Farm Radio Trust is airing on a number of radio stations in Malawi.”
Most recently, one topic has dominated farmers’ questions: the Fall armyworm. Farm Radio Trust and Feed the Future’s Malawi Agriculture Diversification Activity, funded by USAID, have been sharing messages about pest identification and management through radio, mobile phone, and videos. And the hotline has been answering farmers’ questions.
Joyce says the Hotline has been overwhelmed with queries on how to manage Fall armyworm. While they used to receive about 32 calls a month, in September they fielded 420 calls from farmers.
Steven Junior is a farmer from Mangochi district, in Southern region. He called the Hotline to ask how to control the Fall armyworm, as his maize crop was infested with caterpillars. He was advised to use a particular pesticide that has been found effective in Malawi. After following their advice, he called back just to thank the Hotline staff for helping him save his maize crop.
“I would like to thank you for the advice you gave me. I used Cypermenthrin as was advised by the call centre extension officer and I saved my crop from further damage,” Steven says.
The Mlimi Hotline helps farmers to receive real-time answers to their questions, supporting them as they face the Fall armyworm.