By Rhoda Kumwenda
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has provided support in the training of provincial and district specialists and camp extension officers on the Fall Army Worm (FAW) monitoring for early action.
The training included the use of FAO Fall Army Worm Monitoring and Early Warning System (FAMEWS) APP.
The trainings which have been held in 109 districts across the country at the cost of $60.39, aim is to build capacity at provincial and district level through the FAW focal point persons who will help farmers detect infestation early and protect their crops better and report less damages.
The FAMEWS APP will be used every time the fields are scouted and traps are counted for fall armyworm (FAW), African Armyworm (AAW) and Stem Borers. The APP is very easy to use and it can only take about 10 minutes to learn.
In addition, data from the APP will provide farmers with early warning and advice on changes in FAW population levels and distribution in order to protect their crops.
The target user is the farmer, supplemented by the focal point person, extension officer and the plant protection officer when the farmer does not have a smart phone.
Two people were selected from each province to be trained and these included one focal point person and an alternative focal point person who in turn will train and sensitize farmers in the FAW management.
The officers have been trained on how to sustainably manage the FAW through the use of integrated management practices which includes application of local remedies such as collecting FAW larvae killed by naturally occurring pathogens, making a mixture of these pathogens and applying them on the infested crops to kill the pest.
Officers were also advised to urge farmers with small fields to practice cultural methods to fight the FAW which include the use of their fingers to squash whitish or greyish eggs and young larvae (worms) on top and bottom of the leaves rather than using chemicals which may have a long term effect on their lives.
The farmers can also sprinkle ash, use botanical insecticides such as Neem as well as practicing crop ration and early planting just on the onset of the rains.
The officers have also learnt how to tackle FAW in an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to reduce excessive and injudicious use of pesticides .This implies managing FAW in an effective, economically and environmentally sustainable way.
The staff were also trained on the identification of the FAW from other army worms, their looks, origin and how much damage they can cause to the crops, as well as its life cycle.
FAO has been providing technical and policy advice and support on pesticide management and is involved in monitoring the use of chemical insecticides.
However, these measures are for a long term management of FAW as the pest has proven that, it cannot be eradicated in Africa due to the conducive weather. Farmers just need to learn how to manage it without jeopardizing their health and the environment.
Monitoring and surveillance being a key component in the fight against the FAW, the organization has supported the procurement of over 2200 pheromone traps to be used in the monitoring and surveillance of the FAW moth to monitor the population , dynamic and areas of concentration.
The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) through National Agricultural Information Services (NAIS) is also providing early warning and advice.
Chief Field crops Agronomist under the department of agriculture Malumo Nawa said that MoA has increased awareness to communities through the field staff as well as through radio and television programmes.
Dr. Nawa said the ministry has increased trainings of staff to equip them with knowledge about the pest and skills on its management and accurate reporting and collaboration with other stakeholders in the agricultural sector to contain the FAW.
He also urged officers to sensitize farmers on the FAW throughout the year as the pest attacks both rain fed maize and that grown off season through irrigation.
He stressed that MoA is encouraging the use of integrated pest management where farmers do not rely completely on synthetic chemicals to control the FAW and that in cases where the pest attack is severe, farmers can use recommended chemicals but they should follow the guidelines for safe use.
Dr. Nawa who is also the team leader of the training, thanked the members of staff for the high turn-up and interest shown during the training adding that the training was a success as there was active participation from the participants.
Knowing the fact that, the FAW is here to stay in the production system of farmers, FAO hopes to intensify awareness on sustainable FAW management among small scale farmers while building the government institutional capacity to support farmers against the pest.