When a new pest invades, radio is the tool farmers need to protect their fields

When Ethiopian farmers and agricultural experts first learned about Fall armyworm in early 2017, the picture was gloomy. This invasive pest is native to the Americas, and so farmers and experts alike were uncertain as to how this hungry, hungry caterpillar would thrive in Africa’s climate—or how much it would enjoy small-scale farmers’ maize fields. But Farm Radio International knew that radio was the best tool to provide farmers with the information they urgently need about this new invasive species.

At the time, our radio partners were on air in four maize-growing regions of Ethiopia with programming about nutrition and a protein-rich variety of maize. But Fall armyworm loves to eat maize and so we knew we had to help maize farmers address this serious pest. We therefore added three 30-minute episodes about Fall armyworm, which aired in July 2017.

But Fall armyworm is here to stay in Ethiopia and farmers continue to need up-to-date and timely information on how to identify and manage the pest, which represents a real threat to food security in the country. The Fall armyworm is a voracious pest, but the greatest danger is the lack of knowledge and experience, explains Zelalem Nega, our country representative in Ethiopia.

He says, “Without this urgent information about the Fall armyworm’s lifecycle and eating habits, this pest alone would pose one of the biggest threats to food security in sub-Saharan Africa. Farmers need information on how to recognize this worm in the earliest possible stage; otherwise, the destruction can be devastating.”

The Fall armyworm eats up to 80 different plant species, but it loves maize, which is a staple crop for many small-scale African farmers.

We’re excited to be back on air in Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, and SNNPR—the four maize-growing regions of Ethiopia—to help farmers identify, prevent, and control this serious pest. We are working with five radio stations to broadcast information in four languages: Tigrinya, Afaan, Oromo, and Amharic.

For 20 weeks, our radio partners will air 30-minute programs that report the latest news about the Fall armyworm, as well as interviews with farmers and experts about their experience with the pest. Using our Uliza polling application, farmers will answer surveys and have the opportunity to ask their own questions about Fall armyworm, which will be answered on air.

Farmers in many regions of Ethiopia have already planted their maize. Our radio partners will be on air soon to ensure farmers receive the information they need at the right time of the planting season. The programs will be re-broadcast throughout the week.

We will also be working with the broadcasters to create radio spots—short jingles that share key information in 30 seconds, which can be broadcast throughout the day.

With our radio partners, we’re hoping to reach 3 million Ethiopian farmers with the information they need to protect their fields from Fall armyworm and avoid huge crop losses this season—and into the future.

Our “Radio for combating Fall armyworm in Ethiopia” project is funded by USAID Feed the Future.

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