By Dorcas Kabuya

When faced with an agricultural challenge in crop production, chemical pesticides have long been the go-to solution.

However, their environmental and economic drawbacks have led experts to explore alternative strategies to control pests and diseases in their fields.

One approach that has emerged as promising and sustainable solution to curb fall armyworm (FAW) infestations in Africa is the adoption of biological control methods.

Biological control relies on the use of plant based products such as neem and chillies, natural enemies or beneficial insects to regulate pest populations thereby promoting ecological balance.

It is based on this premise that The International Centre for Insect Physiological and Ecology (ICIPE), a research centre that focuses on insect science for food and health working with the Ministry of Agriculture organised a Training of Trainers on FAW biological control.

Agricultural Officers from the Department of Extension, Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI) and some researchers from Malawi were some of the participants who attended the training.

ZARI Chief Agricultural Research Officer, Patrick Chikoti, in his opening remarks noted that the FAW have had a negative impact on the livelihoods of smallholder farmers, families, and communities across the globe destroying staple crops and endangering food security.

Dr. Chikoti noted that researchers needed to be good stewards of nature by finding innovative ways to reduce reliance on chemical pesticides and create a more balanced, resilient, and environmentally friendly agricultural ecosystem.

“Our focus lies in the power of nature itself. Biological control offers us a sustainable path forward, one where we embrace nature to combat invasive pest. Through beneficial insects and the resilience of our ecosystems, we will pave the way for a brighter, more sustainable agricultural future,” he continued.

Dr. Chikoti hinted that the use of biological methods had impressive results in various African countries adding that there was need to find solutions that will not only save fields but also planet.

ICIPE Head of Technology Transfer Unit, Saliou Niassy, said the institution was implementing programmes among them the Biological Control of Fall Army worm and Management in Africa.

Dr. Niassy disclosed that the aim of the project was to test bio-pesticides, biological control, integration of compatible management strategies for sustained FAW control as well as capacity building of all regional stakeholders in various aspects of FAW management.

He further noted that surveillance and monitoring using traps was an important of the solution because it allows the production of predictive maps because it is difficult to monitor the infestation levels and dynamics of the infestation.

“The predictive maps help government and private sector on what has to be done in order to plan and budget for the control as well as the infestation of the pests.   Without surveillance and monitoring mechanisms, you cannot implement Integrated Pest Management (IPM) tools effectively,” he advised.

The project is being implemented by ICIPE and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) with support from funded by the Germany Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

And Tamandani Chimenya from Malawi’s Balaka District Agricultural Office, hinted that there is need to document and valid farmers’ indigenous knowledge on the management of pests and diseases.

Ms. Chimenya lamented that there was lack of information by farmers on the availability of technologies developed leading to lower adoption levels adding that there is need to enhance dissemination and awareness creation.

“Even with the validated technologies, the availability of some source of botanicals are a source of worry, most farmers are not aware of the dosages. We need to encourage farmers to plant botanicals like neem trees for easy access,” she bemoaned.

Governments, international organisations, and local communities must work together to bridge these gaps and ensure that technology becomes a powerful tool in the ongoing fight against the Fall Armyworm.

By harnessing the power of nature, nations are not only taking a sustainable approach to protect their crops but also securing the future of their agriculture and food security.