Alem Digafe walks slowly through his muddy maize fields, wearing plastic boots. He is inspecting his farm to determine if Fall armyworms have attacked the leaves of his maize plants, which are about 40 centimetres high.
Mr. Digafe hails from Ambo town, about 100 kilometres west of Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. Today, he’s happy. He hasn’t seen any trace of Fall armyworm in his field.
He inspects his three-hectare farm every day. He is trying to avoid what happened last year, when Fall armyworm damaged many farmers’ crops.
He says: “We were not well-informed about the worm [caterpillar] and how we could fend it off. If we were well-informed, we could have reduced the effects of the worm on our yields.”
Since then, government extension workers have trained Mr. Digafe and other farmers in the area how to manage Fall armyworm. At first, he thought that chemical pesticides were the only solution. But after attending a training, he now prefers traditional methods of fighting the damaging pest.
He explains, “I handpick the worm and feed it to chickens. Chemicals are not good for the environment.”
Shimelis Ayenew is a researcher at the Mizan Plant Conservation Center in Ethiopia. Mr. Ayenew says that farmers will get better yields than last year because they have learned different ways of fighting Fall armyworm.
He says that farmers should start managing the pest as early as land preparation. Deep ploughing can expose the pupal cocoons to the sun, where they die.
Mr. Ayenew adds that, apart from pesticides, farmers should use traditional methods such as handpicking and disposing of eggs and caterpillars.
He explains, “Routine daily follow-ups like checking the leaves of plants and stems is very crucial to keep plants free from the Fall armyworm.”
Yeshi Dugasa is a 32-year-old farmer with three hectares of maize in Oorrogudduru village in Oromiya, one of Ethiopia’s maize producing regions. Ms. Dugasa says her maize was not heavily attacked by Fall armyworm last year because she quickly identified the pest in her fields and reported it to extension workers.
She is not worried this year because she works on her farm every day. She says she is currently weeding her maize because weeds can harbour the pest.
She explains, “We are cautious about weeds as they could be alternative hosts for the Fall armyworm.”
Mr. Digafe says that, apart from weeding and inspecting crops, farmers in the area grow other plants in their fields that Fall armyworm will attack instead of maize.
He adds that he participated in training workshops on Fall armyworm because his family relies on the income generated from selling their maize. He says that his knowledge of fighting the pest has greatly improved.
Mr. Digafe adds, “I will continue to closely monitor my maize plants so they are not affected by the worm. [A] bad harvest means my children will not attend school classes properly.”
This work was created with the support of the USAID Feed the Future Ethiopia Value Chain Activity as part of the project, “ICT-enabled Radio Programming on Fall Armyworm (FAWET).