Uganda has not won the battle against the notorious Fall Armyworms that destroyed crops in the early months of the new planting season, an agricultural expert familiar with the behavior of the nocturnal moths has warned.
According to Dr John Bahana, who has immense experience in the monitoring of the moths in central and southern Africa, the green pests are only hiding in the soils, ready to strike mainly grain farms in August.
“Warning needs to be sounded out to authorities and all concerned to be aware of the looming disaster that Fall Armyworm will befall Uganda starting this August,” Dr Bahana says of the insects that were first spotted in South Africa last year before they scattered to other Sub-Sahara countries.
Dr Bahana says that come August, the moths will emerge, lay eggs on newly germinated crops ‘and simply devour everything’. He says Uganda’s neighbours, Rwanda and Tanzania face similar situation. Already the moths are destroying maize gardens in western Kenyan district of Kitale, leaving farmers confused on how they will repay loans.
He called for a regional approach to research and management of the carnivorous moths that have a high capability to resist the recommended chemicals.
Government says it has put aside shs 3 billion to tackle the moths. But Dr Bahana says the money is so little compared to what other countries have staked. Kenya budgeted US$2 million whereas Zambia has spent more than US$4 million.
Agriculture minister, Vincent Ssempija, meanwhile says his ministry is finalisng a comprehensive strategy for the management of the worms that struck the country that had just emerged out of the prolonged drought. It is not clear whether Uganda will work with its regional neighbours as grains and cereals form part of the inter-border trade.
He adds efforts on the biological control of the moths are on-going as the chemical use option continues for emergencies.
Mr Okasa Opolot from the MAAIF adds that the research focuses on how the moths breed, feed and move. Should the biological method succeed, it will help protect the environment, given that too much use of the chemicals harm could harm the environment in the long run.
Uganda expects to harvest 4.8-5 million metric tons of maize this year, from the 4 million metric tons it reaped last year. Minister Ssempija says with the interventions to provide chemicals to farmers, the country will lose at least 5% the crops in the gardens to the pests, which is less than 25% that had earlier been expected to be destroyed.
Josephine Okot, the Managing Director of Victoria Seeds agrees with Dr Bahana, saying government should inject in more money. She cited Brazil which invests US$600 million annually to fight the pests.
Minister Ssempija says unscrupulous dealers in efforts to get abnormal profits were supplying farmers with adulterated chemicals. ‘This is why some pests are not dying,” says the minister in reference to chemicals like Rocket, Striker, Ngeyo, among others.
“We have talked to them about this indiscipline. We are going to issue a few guidelines and instructions,” Ssempija says, adding that government will only deal with known manufacturers and agents.
An analyst says agricultural extension workers must be involved deployed at parish levels to monitor the moths as they come back into the gardens.
Brazil, where the moth is perennial makes annual losses of US$3 billion (1,0863.4 billion) worth of crops
The Meteorological Department warned recently that southern part of the country would experience a dry spell in the second season, thrive as rains reduce. The second planting season starts in July, farmers hoping it won’t be bad like the first one that had their gardens infested with the strange Fall Armyworms.