In 2016, the Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) was found in Africa for the first time. It is a lepidopteran pest native to the Americas that feeds in large numbers on leaves and stems of more than 80 plant species, causing major damage to maize, sorghum, sugarcane but also other vegetable crops and cotton. The life cycle of the fall armyworm and its ability to spread and reproduce quickly, makes it an incredibly successful invasive species.
Working with our member countries and partners, CABI has been at the centre of tackling the invasive fall armyworm in Africa and Asia.
Since its first appearance in West Africa, CABI has been taking action against fall armyworm through our two key programmes: Action on Invasives and Plantwise and projects specifically on the pest. Our work includes international and national response planning, biological control research and development, mass extension and diagnostic services.
Communication campaigns on fall armyworm use text, print, radio and video messages to support extension services and farmers managing the pest on their farm. Based on data gathered, we estimate the campaigns directly reached more than 500,000 farmers across several African countries. Studies in Uganda following one campaign showed that those who participated went on to implement two additional fall armyworm management practices over and above those who had not.
CABI’s evidence note revealed that maize farmers had average losses of 26.6% in Ghana and 35% in Zambia due to the pest. Applying pesticides remained the most frequent control method used, sometimes including highly toxic products, which shows how urgent it has become to make safer options more available, especially now the invasion has spread further. CABI and national partners tested how effective biopesticides, botanicals and traditional methods for fall armyworm control are in a number of African countries – work which contributes to the identification of a range of sustainable, non-chemical approaches for managing this pest in future.
Biological control is widely seen as a key component of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and involves three strategies: classical biological control, augmentative biological control, and conservation biological control. Promisingly, surveys for natural enemies of fall armyworm have shown that at least 12 biocontrol agents already attack the invasive insect on the continent, so prospects for the biological control of fall armyworm are encouraging.
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Worldwide, over 500 million smallholder farmers provide food for two-thirds of the earth’s growing population. Achieving a zero hunger world by 2030 depends on increasing the productivity of these smallholder farmers – but their crops face a significant threat. Yearly, an estimated 40% of crops grown worldwide are lost to pests. If we could reduce crop losses by just 1%, we could potentially feed millions more people. The lack of access to timely, appropriate and actionable extension advice makes it a fundamental challenge for farmers to get the right information at the right time to reduce crop losses.
The global cost of invasive species is estimated at US$1.4 trillion per year – close to 5% of global gross domestic product. Invasives disproportionately affect vulnerable communities in poor rural areas, especially in developing countries which depend on natural resources, healthy ecosystems, trade and tourism for their livelihoods.
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