Small but hungry

Fall Armyworm

A new and dangerous pest is quickly spreading across Africa. In less than two years, the Fall armyworm has been spotted in 26 countries from Nigeria, to South Africa, to Zimbabwe.

As a caterpillar, this voracious pest feeds on 80 plant species, including maize, millet, sorghum, rice, and wheat. Many of these are staple foods that people rely on every day. This is one very hungry caterpillar.

In the moth stage, it can fly long distances, and with the help of a good wind it can travel up to 1,600 kilometres in a 30-hour period. It marauds in vast numbers, as the female armyworm lays thousands of eggs.

It’s predicted that the Fall armyworm will cause $13 billion US in crop losses in Africa this year.

This pest, Spodoptera frugiperda, is native to the Americas, where it typically does most of its damage in the fall months before dying off in the wintertime. But it’s a year-round threat in Africa, where the warm climate allows it to thrive.

Paul Nacariya is the director of the Zimbabwe Farmers Union. He told IRIN that farmers were caught unaware when the Fall armyworm first appeared.

“No information or warning were given to notify farmers of the pest. As such, many farmers could not identify the pest and lacked the knowledge and requisite skills on how to contain the damage caused.”

This quote shows just how radio is one of the strongest tools in the struggle against this formidable foe. The Fall armyworm is small, hungry, and travels quickly. But the reach of radio is huge. Farm Radio’s network of broadcasters reaches tens of millions of small-scale farmers.

Since the Fall armyworm first began munching through West African fields in early 2016, the international community has been mobilized, with researchers investigating pest management techniques and policymakers formulating action plans.

But the ones who will feel the immediate impact of the predicted $13 billion US in lost crops are farmers.

And so Farm Radio has been busy, providing Ghanaian broadcasters with information spots, scripts, and connections with experts.

Listen to this radio spot, which is an example of the type of information that has been airing on more than 80 Ghanaian radio stations. These information spots have been translated into 9 languages. Gideon Sarkodie is a broadcaster at Adars FM. He says they have been airing these spots a minimum of four times a day.

Early warning systems & communicating information

Broadcasters can let farmers know the Fall armyworm has been spotted in their area and how to check their crop to see if they have been affected. They can also communicate critical new information to listeners, such as new methods of managing this pest.

Early warning and greater awareness can help farmers make better decisions. In some cases, farmers can minimize damage on their own farms by planting roots or tubers, or other crops that are not as appetizing to the Fall armyworm. At least they will have food to eat and crops to sell in the market.

Tracking & predicting migration

In communicating with their listeners, through call-ins or interviews, broadcasters are also a link in tracking the location of the pest. Using wind and migratory patterns, this data can be used to predict where the pest will travel — and mobilize these communities in time to minimize the damage by plucking caterpillars off the plants as soon as they appear.

Rapid feedback to international community

Making maximum use of cell phones and broadcasting technology, broadcasters can also track communities’ experience with the Fall armyworm and the efficacy of tools and pest control techniques. This information is valuable to the international community.

Radio broadcasting is a cost-efficient way to reach millions of farmers. Against a formidable foe, radio is a great tool to leverage the efforts of both farmers and scientists.

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About the author
Gizaw Shibru is the Director of Operations for Farm Radio International. He joined Farm Radio in 2009 and oversees our work in 9 countries.


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