Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development says fall armyworms have so far destroyed 144 000 hectares of crops, affecting 467 000 farmers in all agricultural development divisions (ADDs) nationwide.
The figure is almost triple that of 2017, when President Peter Mutharika declared 20 out of the country’s 28 districts as disaster areas following a fall armyworm outbreak after 133 083 farmers were affected.
Agriculture expert Tamani Nkhono-Mvula has since warned that if there are no lasting solutions to contain the situation, fall armyworms will remain a threat to the country’s food security.
But in a written response yesterday, Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development spokesperson Priscilla Mateyu said some districts have been moderately affected while in other districts, there is need to replant.
She said the ministry is putting in place various interventions to help contain the situation.
Said Mateyu: “The ministry is distributing pesticides to ADDs for ease of access by farmers. Frontline staff are being briefed on the importance of managing the pest, whereby farmers are also put in groups to conduct organised spraying and mobile vans are also spreading sensitisation messages on control.”
She added that districts also mobilised extra motorised pumps from other extension planning areas (EPAs) that have been serviced at district agriculture offices, ready to be deployed to affected areas whenever required.
However, Mateyu warned extension workers and agriculture officers against selling pesticides, saying they are supposed to be provided to farmers for free.
She further attributed the spread of the pests while pesticides are being distributed to late discovery of the pests by farmers.
The hardest-hit areas are Chikwawa, Salima, Nkhotakota, Machinga and Phalombe.
In an interview yesterday, Nkhono-Mvula said there is need for quick intervention on the pests so that farmers do not lose out and the country should be food-secure.
He said: “There is need to ensure that farmers are following the right husbandry practices like early planting, weeding, crop rotation etc
“The farmers also need to be sensitised to understand the life cycle of the pests as this will help them apply the best method of control. For instance, if the farmer wants to apply chemicals, especially those that kill by contact, the best time to do that is when the worms have just hatched. Mostly at this time, the little worms can be seen on the leaves.”
Nkhono-Mvula said once they are grown, it will be a waste to use chemicals because the worm uses faecal matter to close itself in.
He said another way could be the use of biological means of control, but said the country will have to invest a lot in research to come up with varieties of maize that can resist the worms or coming up with natural biology enemies to fight it.
This year, government set aside K500 million to manage the pests. The money was meant to buy chemicals and train as well as bring awareness to farmers on how they can monitor, detect and manage the pest.
In 2017 when the pests affected 20 out the country’s 28 districts, about 56 082 litres of pesticides was bought to manage the situation. In 2018, about 37 000 litres of pesticides was also purchased for the same cause. During a press briefing in February last year at Capital Hill in Lilongwe, then Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development Joseph Mwanamvekha, said government had managed to deal with the pests following the introduction of fall armyworm management where over 25 000 litres of pesticides were distributed across Malawi.