- This year has been free of armyworms so experts have focused on training farmers to identify best practices to control FAW.
- They study worm stages, use biological controls, then fertilise if needed. The goal: greatly reduce infestation as zero unlikely soon.
Machakos farmers are projecting a good harvest due to good rains, proper agricultural practices and management of the fall armyworm.
There are no worms this year and farmers are using the time to learn best farming practices and how to control the worm.
As an elated Josphat Mutwota took us on a tour to his farm in Kithangaini in Masii, one could not help but admire the green rows of maize, indicating a bumper harvest to come from the otherwise dry area.
Mutwota, the acting chairman of the Kyeni Self-Help Group, said for the first time in many years, he is expecting a good harvest from his three acres of maize.
“I am expecting at least 15 bags from an acre. This will be a first because normally, I get five or fewer bags of maize due to poor rains,” he said.
Mutwota grows maize and pigeon peas. This year's maize crop looks good because there was no armyworm attack, as in previous seasons.
He planted the OKAMES (KDH-414) maize variety suitable for his area and the rains were good.
He also attributed the good harvest to training on new farming methods and pest management that farmers in his group have received from Kenya Agricultural and Research Organisation researchers.
Farmers have been trained to scout and monitor pests and to use pesticides .
“This ensures they do not spray pesticides and kill other useful insects in the soil and the environment. We have also been trained on the importance of spacing of crops and on crop rotation,” Mutwota said.
He emphasised that farmers should use only certified seeds.
“This year, there will be no shortage of maize in Ukambani,” Mutwota said.
Dr Muo Kasina, a pest management specialist with Kalro said when the armyworm invaded Kenya in 2017, there was an outcry from farmers on how to manage the devastating pest.
“Previously, there was no major pest management, particularly pesticide for maize,” Kasina said. So when the pest came, it was new, resistant to insecticides and it attacked maize when farmers were not experienced in managing such,” he said.
To help cope with armyworm in 2022, researchers from 16 African countries in partnership with the South Korean government came together to develop an Africa-wide programme to manage the pest with sustainable methods.
“Sustainable methods contribute to food security because maize is one of the food and nutrition security crops that Kenyans and Africa depend on,” Kasina said.
They took the programme to Masii, Machakos county in March 2023, armed with measures to help farmers cope with the problem and reduce infestation.
“Our target was not to control or eliminate the insect, but to empower farmers with information to lower infestation levels,” Kasina said.
When they started in 2020 across southeastern areas, infestation was the most important problem and it can only be handled if you understand how the insect behaves, he said.
Farmers were trained on how to identify the insects, differentiate stages of development and know when to apply appropriate measures.
“We have been able to use affordable biological control measures available in the market,” Kasina said.
"If we do not see any major gain, then we use insecticides. Up to three administrations of insecticides are possible with proper management and you can get good yields.”
Farmers have also been trained on early land preparation and soil testing to ensure the soil is fertile enough for good yields as they control the fall armyworm. In addition, soil can be improved by liming and using appropriate fertiliser in appropriate ways.
The entomologist said when they started in 2020, farmers from Machakos, Kitui, Makueni, Taita Taveta and Kilifi counties were using five to seven sprays in a season to control the fall armyworm.
“Even after many sprays, the farmers would still report an invasion of the pest. This was not effective and farmers were getting desperate. With the training, pesticides use has dropped,” Kasina said.
This is related to timing of application and proper application because previously farmers were not applying pesticides to maize. We have been able to show farmers how to target application of pesticides because it requires different skills to apply pesticide.
For instance, pesticide is not applied to maize the way it’s applied to tomatoes, the expert said.
The researcher cited positive moves towards appropriate management of the fall armyworm, seven years since the pest was first reported in Kenya.
“Farmers have been properly trained on how to manage the pest,” he said.
Dr Lusike Wasilwa, Kalro director of crop systems, said the research organisation, in partnership with the Korea-Africa Food and Agriculture Cooperation Initiative, has empowered farmers through the integrated management of the fall armyworm.
She said integrated pest management offers a more sustainable, cost-effective and environmentally friendly approach to fall armyworm control by incorporating a range of strategies and focusing on long-term prevention and reduction of pests’ population.
“Sometimes, even with different spray regimes, we're still losing about 50 per cent. So the pesticides in our agricultural systems, in our soils and waters are a no-no. To be able to help the farmers, we're using biological controls to reduce the instances of the fall armyworms to 10-20 per cent and eventually to 100 per cent,” she said.
She said since the FAW was first reported in Kenya in 2017, it has been devastating, causing as much as total losses.
“We want to ensure that farmers do not have to use any pesticides to manage FAW. We are trying to promote good, clean production practices, and ensure that whatever we do contributes to food and feed safety,” Wasilwa added.