It’s time for a tea break during the workshop on raising awareness about Fall armyworm. Farmers are busy sharing their experiences while drinking and eating snacks. Berhe Teka withdraws from the discussion and stands aside, holding a cup of tea in his hand. He must be thinking of something very important.
The 32-year-old farmer looks worried; his eyes are far from the cup in his hand. He seems to be arguing within himself. One can see the deep concern on his face.
Mr. Teka says he is worried because Fall armyworms have invaded his maize field. He explains: “I am extremely bothered about my farm. Before I came here for training, my farm was attacked by Fall armyworms. I am thinking as to how far the worms [caterpillars] may attack my farm right now.”
Mr. Teka lives in Beki village in the southern regional state of Ethiopia. He says, “Fall armyworms have terrifically harmed our farms since last year’s rainy season.”
Like many other farmers in his area, Mr. Teka does not use chemical pesticides to control Fall armyworm. He uses cultural methods such as handpicking and killing in order to manage the pest.
Last year, Fall armyworm was a nightmare for maize farmers. But Mr. Teka says the experience taught them good lessons on how to deal with the pest.
He adds: “Our farms were invaded by the insect last season and we collected the [Fall armyworm] larvae and killed them. We found this to be very effective in hindering the spread of the Fall armyworm.”
Alemtsehay Darage is a local agricultural extension expert. She says: “Our farmers have been applying the handpicking and killing techniques since last season [because] it was effective. More than 20,000 hectares of land affected by Fall armyworm was cleaned by this method last year. They [the farmers] are using the same method this year, too.”
Ms. Darage adds: “It is promising, and I, as an expert, can be a witness for its effectiveness. I encourage the farmers to use cultural methods only because it is effective…. They may not be aware of the problems of applying chemicals.”
While chemical pesticides can be useful tools for managing pests, they can damage human health and the environment, and kill the species that might help control pests such as Fall armyworm.
Amenti Chali works at USAID Ethiopia as the National Crop Production Specialist Coordinator. Mr. Amenti recommends that farmers employ various cultural methods to control the spread of Fall armyworm. He says that most farmers use the cultural technique of handpicking and killing the larvae, then feeding them to chickens.
He says that Ethiopian farmers are also using many locally available materials to manage Fall armyworm, including ash, sand, pepper, neem products, and soap.
He adds: “Local practices for pest control are [being] found effective in Ethiopia. But it is not advisable to use the traditional techniques only…. Although using local methods is promising, it doesn’t mean that applying traditional methods only is enough.” He says it’s inevitable that farmers will adopt an integrated approach to managing Fall armyworm, involving a combination of different kinds of methods.
It’s time for Mr. Teka to get back to the training workshop. He says that, although he has sleepless nights and struggles to tackle the damage caused by Fall armyworm, he will continue using local control methods.
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).”
Photo: Harbe Tafesse in her maize field in Dore Bafenno district of southern Ethiopia.