By Dorcas Kabuya Chaaba

It is common knowledge that Fall Armyworms (FAW) have continued to cause devastating effects on farmers’ economic livelihoods in Africa since the outbreak was reported in 2016.

Chemical control was indeed the first resort after the outbreak and a lot of resources were spent in procuring pesticides.

Agricultural researchers have not folded their hands in trying to figure out what other best methods could be economically viable in controlling this pest.

Different control methods such as the use of natural enemies, neem based products, legume-maize intercropping, sand and ash have been used to try and contain the FAW, bringing the whole array of technologies into what is called FAW Integrated Pest Management.

Ministry of Agriculture working with International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) has been implementing a programme called Community-Based Fall Armyworm Monitoring, Early Warning and Management.

As part of the programme, intercropping trials were set up in Chilanga, Chongwe, Chirundu, Livingstone and Kazungula districts of Zambia using the farmer field school approach to observe and test the efficacy of intercropping in FAW fight.

ICIPE Head of Technology Transfer Unit, Saliou Niassy, noted that the goal of the programme is to improve farmers’ livelihoods was to disseminate information on Integrated Pest Management (IPM) strategies which had been developed by different agricultural organisations including ICIPE.

Dr. Niassy noted that among the strategies that were developed include the use of natural enemies, push-pull, use of bio-pesticides, maize-legume intercropping as well as monitoring of the pest for timely action could be taken.

“Working with the Ministry of Agriculture in Zambia, we rolled out the maize-legume intercropping programme in eight districts for farmers to observe the results using the Farmer Field School (FFS) approach,” he said.

Dr. Niassy further added that it was important to undertake the programme adding that since the outbreak of FAW in 2016 many farmers in Africa whose livelihoods depended on maize for were devastated by the impact of the pest.

“Before we could implement the programme among farmers, we so it fit to explain to the farmers the biology and ecology of the pest and how it works within the environment because many framers did not know that it’s the female moth that lays eggs in their fields at night,” he stressed.

Dr. Niassy noted that he was elated that most farmers were able to explain the differences observed between a maize-cowpea intercropped field and a maize mono-cropped field.

“Most farmers are able to explain the principles of behind maize-cowpea intercropping and its efficacy compared to their traditional monocropping. Farmers have seen that yields have increased due to reduced FAW pest attack and they are looking forward to expanding the area for maize-legume cultivation in the coming farming season,” he narrated.

Demian Mabote Ndalamei, is an Agricultural Research Officer, from Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI) and explained that intercropping is the growing of a mixture of crops on a piece of land.

Mr. Ndalamei stated that practice of intercropping maize with a legume like cowpea provided food and shelter to FAW’s natural enemies and increases the population of beneficial insects and efficiency in controlling FAW pest populations.

“When farmers intercrop maize with a legume, the maize grows with vigour and is able to recover quickly from damage because legumes fix nitrogen in the soil. In addition, cowpea maintains moisture, such that even if there is a bit of drought because of intercropping chances are that the maize will recover provided the drought is not prolonged,” he emphasised.

Mr. Ndalamei further reported that when farmers intercrop maize with a cowpea, the legume produces a scent which suppresses or repel the scent from the maize plants thereby controlling FAW population because the cowpea smell is very hostile to the female FAW moth making it difficult for eggs to be laid in the intercropped field.

While Emma Hangombe, is a member of the FFS in Nakachenje Agricultural Camp in Chilanga District has who has taken it upon herself after seeing the benefits by disseminating the information to her church members in the Seven Day Adventist Church.

Mrs. Hangombe stated that she learnt that the FAW insect pest lays eggs underneath the leaves in the maize fields during the night.

“Using the Zig Zag method of scouting, we discovered that there more FAWs in the mono-cropped field that in the intercropped field. This prompted me to share this good news with other farmers in my local church who were not part of the FFS,” she recounted.

Moses Sibanda is another farmer who has witnessed the effectiveness of maize-cowpea intercropping.

“We received visitors through our Camp Officer and we were trained on the benefits of intercropping maize with cowpeas. We set up a two demonstration plots intercropping two rows of cowpea after two rows of maize while in the other field only maize was planted,” said Mr. Sibanda.

He further explained that as the crops were growing, we observed that there were more benefits in intercropping than mono-cropping adding that there were more FAWs in the mono-cropped filed.

Hengiwe Phiri, owner of the land were the FFS was set up noted that engaging the affected community in the management of FAW was a step in the right direction and urged other agricultural organisation to emulate ICIPE.

Ms. Phiri stated that engaging farmers in conducting trials were they can observe for themselves what is happening increases the adoption rate rather than just imposing the technologies on the farmers.

Meanwhile, Sila Mwape, the Block Extension Supervisor, noted that through the programme implemented by ICIPE and the Ministry, the farmers had seen that intercropping not only lessens the population of FAWs but also provides the households with food and nutritional security.

“Farmers have seen that intercropping lessens the usage of chemicals which can be harmful both to human and the environment,” Mrs. Mwape added.

Intercropping Maize with a legume is one method that has proven to be effective against the fight of Fall Armyworm, farmers in Chilanga’s Nakachenje Agricultural Camp have attested to this fact.

This programme is sponsored by The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and The European Union (EU). It is implemented in seven countries namely Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Malawi and Zambia.