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FAO helps Kenyan farmers rescue harvest from Fall Armyworm

‘With a good harvest, we have enough maize for ourselves, and then some to sell. But right now we have to buy the maize to feed the family,' says Agnes Waithira Muli, a smallholder farmer in Embu county in central Kenya. She and her husband lost most of their last crop due to Fall Armyworm (FAW), a potentially devastating insect pest that has spread across much of Africa.

Thanks to FAO training in Fall Armyworm control, however, they are better able to protect their current crop. "Now that we know how to deal with the infestation, our losses will be smaller," Agnes says.

Fall Armyworm is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, but has spread rapidly across Africa since 2016, causing serious damage particularly to maize crops.

In Embu county, the pest first appeared two seasons ago. As in so many other places, farmers soon realized, in despair, that pesticides did little to fight it.

Mechanical control
During the 2017 short rains season, FAO initiated a pilot project where specially trained ‘field scouts' were deployed to visit smallholder farmers and assist them in manual FAW control, twice a week for six weeks. The method used was mechanical control - identifying the eggs and larvae and then destroying them by hand.

Effective for smallholders
Salesio Mugo Nyaga is Embu smallholder farmer who learnt mechanical control from an FAO field scout. He has a small plot of land, a quarter of an acre, from which he harvested two 90 kilo bags of maize last season.

"We started the mechanical control a little late, and so I lost some. With no Fall Armyworm, maybe I would have had three bags," Salesio says.

Once familiar with the method, he has been able to practice mechanical control from the start of the season on his current crop. Three days a week he goes scouting, collecting and destroying caterpillars.

For some other farmers, it is not as easy. "It's a challenge for those who don't live close to their farms. And then there's the labour that goes into it," Salesio says. "But my neighbors who did no mechanical control lost everything."


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