Understanding smallholders' responses to fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) invasion: evidence from five African countries.
Fall armyworm (FAW) is a new invasive pest that is causing devastating effects on maize production and threatening the livelihoods of millions of poor smallholders across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Using unique survey data from 2356 maize-growing households in Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe, we examined how smallholder farmers are fighting this voracious pest. In particular, we assessed the FAW management strategies used by smallholders, socio-economic factors driving the choice of the management options, the complementarities or tradeoffs among the management options, and the (un)safe pesticide use practices of farmers. Results showed that smallholder farm households have adopted a variety of cultural, physical, chemical and local options to mitigate the effects of FAW, but the use of synthetic pesticides remains the most popular option. Results from multivariate probit regressions indicated that the extensive use of synthetic pesticides is driven by household asset wealth, and access to subsidised farm inputs and extension information. We observed that farm households are using a wide range of pesticides, including highly hazardous and banned products. Unfortunately, a majority of the households do not use personal protective equipment while handling the pesticides, resulting in reports of acute pesticide-related illness. Our findings have important implications for policies and interventions aimed at promoting environmentally friendly and sustainable ways of managing invasive pests in smallholder farming systems.