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September 22, 2018

Experts call for more investment to tackle invasive plants, pests

Armyworms invading a  farms in Kwale County destroying crops in the area threatening further hunger that has seen locals depending on government relief food for some months now.Photo Alloyce Musyoka
Armyworms invading a farms in Kwale County destroying crops in the area threatening further hunger that has seen locals depending on government relief food for some months now.Photo Alloyce Musyoka

Experts want an end to the global spread of invasive plants and pests before 2020.

Officers from the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) said developing countries must be at the forefront in preventing, detecting and controlling such species to restore agricultural and natural ecosystems.

The goal is to reduce crop losses, improve health, remove trade barriers and reduce degradation of natural resources, infrastructure and vulnerable areas, they said at the 2018 Africa Green Revolution Forum held last week in Kigali, Rwanda.

CABI is a not-for-profit organisation that draws on scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment.

On its website, it says invasive species hurt livelihoods of the rural poor who depend on natural resources for income and food security. It is implementing an ambitious programme to address this complex issue.

It adds that invasive species cost the global economy about $1.4 trillion annually.

“We’re falling behind. Progress is too slow to achieve the ambitious targets set by the international community. If we don’t accelerate progress on these critical issues, further outbreaks cannot be prevented,” CABI director general for development Dennis Rangi said in Kigali.

He called for increased investment in tackling invasive species and having an invasive species strategy.

“We recommend development of a policy/regulation that encourages use of lower risk management methods, including biocontrol and integrated pest management,” Dr Rangi said.

The recent fall armyworm outbreak casts doubt on Africa and Asia’s preparedness to fight the scourge. The fall armyworm, a moth indigenous to the Americas, has been spreading rapidly across Africa since 2016. While just 12 African countries had confirmed its presence a year ago, more than 40 African countries are now infested.

In Kenya, the pest was first reported in Busia last year. It is believed to have entered the country from Uganda. According to the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation, it has spread to about 1,976,843 acres in 25 counties.

The fall armyworm in Africa can lead to maize yield losses of up to 20.6 million tonnes per year in just 12 of Africa’s maize-producing countries. This represents about 53 per cent of annual production.

In Africa, the worm is best known to eat maize, but the caterpillar has a voracious appetite and is known to eat 186 plant species from 42 families, including rice, sorghum, sugarcane, cabbage, beet, peanut, soybean, alfalfa, onion, cotton, pasture grasses, millet, tomato, potato and cotton.

CABI wants global efforts to tackle the problem. It works with local, national and regional partners to develop an integrated and sustainable framework for fixing the problem of invasive species, generating growth, creating jobs and helping to reduce poverty.

Rangi told the Kigali summit that CABI believes their proramme will contribute to improving people’s livelihoods, food security, trade opportunities and commitment to environmental protection.

“CABI is asking the global community to commit to reducing the impact of invasive species. We invite everyone to support the action on invasive species programme in any way they can,” he said.

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