Radio hosts fight Fall armyworm with interviews and information

September 25, 2017
A translation for this article is available in French

As the presenter of a popular farmer radio program, Gideon Sarkodie is well aware of the challenges facing small-scale growers. But in the six years he’s hosted Thank you farmers, he’s never seen anything like the devastation they are experiencing now.
 
He says, “Some people lost their whole farms. Some people could not plant during the minor season because they lost their income during the major season.”
 
Farmers across Ghana are reeling from the arrival of a new pest. Since 2016, Fall armyworm has been spreading across much of sub-Saharan Africa. The caterpillars have a voracious appetite and reproduce quickly. Feeding on more than 80 plant species, with staple crops like maize and rice among their favourites, Fall armyworms pose a major threat to food security across Africa.
 
The Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International, or CABI, is closely monitoring Fall armyworm’s spread and coordinating a response. Walter Hevi is a project manager at CABI. He says the pest poses unique challenges for farmers.
 
He says, “When people first saw the worm, they thought it was the normal armyworm, but their habit is different.”
 
Mr. Hevi is referring to the African armyworm, which feeds on leaves, while the Fall armyworm buries deep inside the cob or stalk, destroying the whole plant.
 
Mr. Hevi explains: “When they enter, they target the whole of the plant. Once they destroy that, you can’t have any harvest, as compared to the African armyworm, which feeds just at the side of the leaves, and the terminal can still continue growing.”
 
If farmers can identify the caterpillars early, and if they know how best to kill them, they might be able to control Fall armyworm. But how to get this information to rural farmers? Enter radio.
 
At a Fall armyworm workshop in Accra in early 2017, Ben Fiafor, director of Farm Radio Ghana, immediately saw what his organization could do to help.
 
He says: “When we heard that the Fall armyworm is destroying the farms and farmers do not have any information, they do not know what to do, how to control it, or where to go, we realized that is what we do.”
 
Mr. Fiafor adds, “We link up with those who have the information and make sure that information is available for farmers at the right time, in the right form.”
 
Farm Radio immediately created a series of two-minute radio spots about identifying, preventing, and managing Fall armyworm. Radio producers translated the spots into nine languages and shared them with more than 80 radio stations.
 
For example, the radio spots explained how to identify Fall armyworm by the pale Y-shaped marking on its head. They also included tips about weeding and applying pesticide to target areas where the young caterpillars like to hide.
 
Broadcasters also received a list of experts they could interview to provide listeners with more information about the caterpillar.
 
Listeners were keenly interested and radio stations wanted to provide more programming. In response, Farm Radio created three additional half-hour radio scripts on Fall armyworm.
 
Mr. Sarkodie works at ADARS FM in Kintampo, Brong Ahafo Region. The station has been playing the radio spots at least four times a day.
 
He says: “For those who listen to radio, they hear the information and they know how they should go about it when they detect worms on their farm. So, for example, they know they need to contact the agric extension officers.”
 
Programs like Mr. Sarkodie’s will continue to provide essential information to farmers for years to come.
 
For Mr. Hevi, the battle against Fall armyworm has just begun. He says: “The Fall armyworm has come to stay. So what do we do? The whole idea is not to say we want to eradicate the Fall armyworm, but [to ask] how do you manage it.”
 
With the continued efforts of Farm Radio and partners like Mr. Sarkodie, farmers will have reliable, up-to-date information to protect their farms, their livelihoods, and food security in Ghana.
 
Photo: (Left) The damage of Fall armyworm on maize leaves, (right)Gideon Sarkodie at ADARS FM