Ethiopia: Farmers plant late, monitor early to manage Fall armyworm

August 27, 2018
A translation for this article is available in Amharic French

Although his land is fertile, Berhanu Gebremichael worries about his future in farming. The 35-year-old grows maize on a two-hectare piece of land. He lives in Chena village in the Keffa Zone of the southern regional state of Ethiopia.

Recently, Fall armyworms attacked his field, threatening to destroy his main source of food and income.

Mr. Gebremichael says he’s struggling to protect his maize plants from the Fall armyworm outbreak. The pest reduced his harvest last year, making it difficult for him to meet the daily needs of his family of five.

He explains: “I used to harvest 36 quintals (1,762 kilograms) of maize from one hectare of land, annually earning an average of about 288,000 birr ($10,540 US). But in 2017, my earnings [were] halved because of the Fall armyworm invasion.”

To deal with Fall armyworm, Mr. Gebremichael and other farmers are planting maize late, in an attempt to avoid the pest. They plant maize around April to avoid the December to February period during which Fall armyworm attacks and destroys crops.

He explains: “To avoid the Fall armyworm outbreak, we’re planting maize [now]. It’s not a season that we should plant, but a season we should harvest. December to February are vital months for planting maize, but we’re planting in March and April.”

Zebdewos Selato is the director of the Ethiopia Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Resource Plant Protection Directorate. He says that, since the pest was discovered in Ethiopia in March 2017, it has been attacking maize crops and has proved difficult to detect and manage.

Mr. Selato says the danger with Fall armyworm is that it attacks a wide area of land and is very difficult to control by hand. He says it’s a waste of time for farmers to remove affected plants as a means of managing the pest.

He advises farmers to try their best to detect Fall armyworm early. If they discover that their maize plants are extensively infested, they should either handpick the pests or use pesticides.

Mr. Selato adds that the government is sending agricultural extension workers to areas affected by Fall armyworm. The extension workers will help farmers detect the pest and, depending on the severity of the infestation, either crush it by hand or provide farmers with pesticides.

Amenti Chali is the national crop production specialist for the Feed the Future Value Chain Activity. He says Fall armyworm has become almost a national problem, and that it’s critical to raise awareness on how to manage it.

The Feed the Future Value Chain Activity is collaborating with the Ethiopian government and radio stations in Oromia, Southern, Amhara, and Tigray regional states to conduct radio programs on how to tackle Fall armyworm.

Mr. Chali says: “Already in 2018, there are signs that Fall armyworm has reached … states which suffer from droughts. Various awareness-raising programs including radio broadcasts should be done to prevent Fall armyworm damage on maize crops.”

He recommends that farmers use a combination of measures to deal with the pest. He explains: “Combatting Fall armyworm needs integration of different practices, specifically Integrated Pest Management [that] combines cultural control methods, safe pesticide use, biological control, and use of resistant varieties of maize crops.”

Mr. Chali says that farmers should be careful when managing Fall armyworm because, other than maize, the pest attacks crops like bananas, sorghum, wheat, and teff.

Mr. Gebremichael says that Fall armyworm can cause devastating damage and, as such, he will always be alert to check his field and detect the pest as soon as possible.

He says: “During last season, Fall armyworm severely damaged my maize crops, but for the upcoming season Fall armyworm is going to affect [only] a small portion of my land. I am preparing to use pesticides, with the help of government extension workers, to save my crops.”

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).”