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Battling the fall armyworm: A DEVASTATING INSECT-PEST MEETS ITS MATCH

The battle against the fall armyworm (FAW) continues as the devastating insect-pest continues to munch its way across sub-Saharan Africa, and has now spread to Asia. Native to the Americas, the pest is known to eat over 80 plant species, with a particular preference for maize, a main staple crop around the world. The fall armyworm was first officially reported in Nigeria in West Africa in 2016, and rapidly spread across 44 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Sightings of damage to maize crops in India due to fall armyworm in mid 2018 marked the first stage of the spread of the pest in Asia, and the pest has since been reported in neighboring countries.

The shaded areas of this map represent countries with new or ongoing fall armyworm activity. Source: FAO, December 2018.

Since the arrival of FAW in Africa in 2016, the CGIAR Research Program on Maize (MAIZE) has intensively worked with partners on a variety of fronts to tackle the challenge. A Fall Armyworm R4D International Consortium was launched jointly in 2018 by MAIZE lead centers, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), involves over 45 organizations and is implementing strategic plans for short-, medium- and long-term research and development steps against the pest. The new Fall Armyworm R4D International Consortium will serve to develop and implement a unified plan to fight this plant pest on the ground. Focusing on applied research, the consortium joins other global efforts and coordinates with international bodies working against this pest.

A fall armyworm rests upon a maize leaf it has just destroyed. Photo: Jennifer Johnson.

In early 2018 MAIZE, in partnership with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and other collaborators, released a comprehensive manual on fall armyworm pest management in Africa. The manual, “Fall Armyworm in Africa: A Guide for Integrated Pest Management,” provides tips on FAW identification as well as technologies and practices for effective and sustainable management.

“The strategies outlined in this manual can be of great importance to farmers in India in dealing with this insect pest. FAW is indeed one of the most destructive crop pests, and there is no option than to adopt an integrated pest management strategy to effectively tackle this complex challenge,” said B.M. Prasanna, director of MAIZE and Global Maize Program, CIMMYT. “MAIZE and partners are dedicated to finding solutions to this problem that will protect the food security and incomes of smallholder farmers across Asia and Africa.”

In addition, MAIZE has initiated screening for resistance to fall armyworm in maize germplasm over the last two crop seasons with promising results, with the release of 3 FAW resistant maize varieties planned for late 2019.

Gerphas Ogola, researcher at CIMMYT; Regina Tende, senior research scientist at KALRO; and Anani Bruce, CIMMYT entomologist pause for a photo at the fall armyworm insectary at Katumani station, Kenya. Here, fall armyworm larvae are bred in order learn more about the insect pest and how to best combat it in farmers fields. Photo: Jennifer Johnson.

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