Armyworms to cause more damage, farmers warned

Experts say the dry weather creates favourable conditions for survival

In Summary
  • The dry weather creates favourable conditions for survival, especially for eggs and small larvae.
  • It usually takes about 30 days for a female fall armyworm to develop from an egg to the point where she is ready to lay an egg of her own.
A fall armyworm on a maize plant. File
A fall armyworm on a maize plant. File

Farmers have been warned the fall armyworm is likely to destroy more of their maize because there will be little or no rain in most places this month.

The dry weather creates favorable conditions for survival, especially for eggs and small larvae.

It usually takes about 30 days for a female fall armyworm to develop from an egg to the point where she is ready to lay an egg of her own.

“There is a likelihood of outbreak of pests and diseases such as fall armyworms in areas expected to receive below average rainfall,” said Charles Mugah, a deputy director at Kenya Meteorological Department.

“Relevant authorities are advised to put in place pests and diseases surveillance, control and preventive measures,” he added.

Farms belonging to more than 3.5 million farmers in 44 counties are already infested with the armyworm, according to Crop Development Principal Secretary Kello Harsama.

The pest attacks a wide range of crops but maize and sorghum are the most preferred hosts. It can cause up to 100 per cent yield loss if left uncontrolled, according to the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Organization.

Karlo says in an advisory armyworm can be controlled by spraying using certified chemicals, using other pests, and through pheromone traps that lure male moths.

The Dagoretti-Corner based Igad Climate Prediction & Applications Centre also noted the weather will be unusually warmer until August, which is favourable for armyworm outbreak.

ICPAC further said animal diseases are likely to increase this season.

“Inoculate and vaccinate livestock with support from the Ministry of Health in June,” ICPAC said in an advisory for Kenya.

The current dry season is expected to be followed by heavy rains from October to December, caused by the El Nino phenomenon, which is still developing.

El Niño and La Niña events are collectively referred to as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation or ENSO. They are driven by changes in sea surface temperatures over the equatorial Pacific Ocean.

Kenya Met Director Dr David Gikungu said during El Niño, SST in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean become warmer than average, while La Niña is characterised by cooler than average sea surface temperatures in the same regions.

“El Niño is often associated with heavy rains and floods during the OND season especially in East Africa,” he said.

The tropical Pacific is now in an ENSO-neutral state.

Model predictions and expert assessment indicate a moderate probability (60 per cent chance) for the onset of El Niño during May-July 2023.

“This probability is expected to increase to 60-70 per cent during June-August and it is highly likely (with a chance of 70-80 per cent in July-through October 2023). El Niño conditions are expected to persist up to the OND 2023 rainfall season and may extend to the November to January season,” Gikungu said.

He said it is important to note that El Niño itself is not rain, but rather an effect that can impact weather patterns and lead to heavier-than-normal rainfall in East Africa.

“While heavy rains are commonly experienced during El Niño events, it is also notable that these effects are typically most significant during the ONDJ months and not in June, July and August. It should also be understood that El Niño is not necessarily a direct cause of heavy rainfall. While it can impact weather patterns and result in heavier-than-normal rainfall, the effects of El Niño can vary significantly between events,” Gikungu said.

He said in 1987 for instance, OND season was an El Niño event that did not result in heavy rainfall over the country.

Additionally, in 2015, the El Niño index was higher than that of 1997 but the country did not experience as much rainfall as it did in 1997.

Gikungu said Kenya Met is monitoring the situation and will be providing timely updates to the public.

According to Kenya’s updated Nationally Determined Contributions, successive impacts of climate change result to socio-economic losses estimated at 3-5 per cent of GDP.

Droughts and floods are the main climate hazards negatively impacting lives and livelihoods with human health increasingly being at risk.

The NDC says extreme climate events cause significant loss of life and adversely affect the national economy.

The NDC says adverse climate effect particularly droughts and floods have the catastrophic and increasing impacts across the country.

It says floods in 2018 led to loss of human life in Kenya displacing more than 230,000 people including 150,000 children and closed over 700 schools while wiping out billions of shillings worth of roads.

The floods also destroyed 8,500 hectares of crop and drowning over 20,000 head of livestock.

Kenya Met says floods can occur anywhere particularly after a period of heavy precipitation.

Kenya met says all flood plains and urban areas (increased paved surfaces and clogged drainage systems) have a high vulnerability to flooding mostly caused by heavy storms due to reduced infiltration.

On the other hand, flash floods occur after a period of prolonged drought that renders the ground very compact followed by rainfall falling on this now hard surface having much lower-than-normal infiltration capacity.

But even as El Nino is predicted, Google has expanded its flood alerts to 80 countries, including eight new countries in Africa, leading to a total of 23 countries now covered in Africa.


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