May 21, 2018 Last Updated 8:03 AM, May 21, 2018

Over 16, 000 hectares of maize are reported to be under Fall Army Worms attack in the seven districts of Blantyre Agriculture Development Division (ADD).

Blantyre ADD’s Program Manager, Martini Kausi told the Malawi News Agency that his office had received reports of the Fall Army Worm attack, so the office has already started pesticide distribution.

“We have already started distributing the recommended pesticides which is a total of 1791 litres to all the affected farmers in all the seven districts of Blantyre, Chiradzulu, Mwanza, Neno, Mulanje, Phalombe and Thyolo,” explained Kausi.

The program manager indicated that so far, the Fall Army Worms have affected 56, 341 farming households within the ADD.

He then indicated the Ministry of Agriculture’s frontline officers and lead farmers have been trained on Fall Army Worm timely identification and control as well as recommended pesticide application in an effort to manage the crisis.

“One thing is for sure, the pest is here to stay but with good crop management skill and adherence to instructions by the farmers, the impact can be reduced,” Kausi added.

He added that the ADD with support from Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has set up funnel traps in various communities to help reduce the population of the pest.

These traps work by attracting the opposite sex of the pest whose scent have been embedded on the trap and once they are caught within the traps they are killed using pesticides, thereby controlling mating and population.

FAO’s Southern Region Resilience officer, Aubrey Sidiki said they had supported communities in Blantyre, Shire Valley and Machinga ADDs with 144 traps to control the Fall Army Worm.

“We have set the traps in the previously identified African Army Worm hot spots where communities were already trained on how to monitor and use similar traps,” explained Sidiki.

The FAO resilience officer also highlighted that the funnel traps enable communities to identify the level of risk in the area and inform them on the right combat approach.

Sidiki added that the community based Fall Army groups were encouraged to prioritize biological and cultural remedies before opting for pesticides.

“Because chemicals are expensive and have side effects, we promote the use of best agricultural practices such as early planting, regular scouting, timely weeding and fertilizer application as well as use of other viable biological measures which are mostly inform of plant extracts such as Neem leaves,” added Sidiki.

Agriculture authorities in Malawi are putting in place measures to detect and control a possible recurring outbreak of fall army worms in the forthcoming growing season.

The 2016/2017 growing season saw several parts of the country being affected by the pest which are resistant to normal pesticides for similar pests.

Recent international news reports are indicating that Zambia has detected another hit of the pests in the forthcoming agriculture season.

Last year, before hitting Malawi, the pests started with Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique prompting agriculture experts from the three countries and Malawi to hold several meeting strategising on how to eradicate them.

The worms are feared to be a drawback in food security which has been making a positive impact on the local economy.

Speaking to Capital FM, Spokesperson in the Ministry of Agriculture Osborne Tsoka says they are basing their preparedness on the country’s pest experience from the previous growing season.

An agriculturalist is suggesting that Malawi adopts the use of Genetically Modified (GMO) maize to deal with pests such as the fall army worm.

The pest invaded fields during the last growing season, destroying crops in their wake.

According to the Agriculture Ministry’s Controller of Agricultural Extension and Technical Services Alfred Changaya, Malawi is still held back from using GMO maize, due to a lack of policies that do not permit the practice.

In an interview with the Malawi News Agency, Changaya cited the example of South Africa where the use of GMO maize has eliminated the stalk borer.

So far the search for a lasting solution to the Fall Army Worm outbreak, which was first reported in Malawi in December 2016, is still underway.

There has however been a longstanding debate on the use of GMO crops in the country.

One of the major criticisms being that as a country we do not have strong regulations and enforcement capacity to monitor the processes.

Researchers believe that despite the criticism, the country is moving forward in terms of commercialising genetically modified crops, with cotton, cowpea and banana now in field trials.

The Biosafety Act was passed in 2002, biosafety regulations in 2007 and the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Policy was enacted in 2008.

Malawi has a fully functional biosafety regulatory committee that deliberates on applications for trials, and a functional biosafety registrar’s office.

These instruments have made it possible for Malawi to progress with trials of three different genetically modified crops, which are now at different stages, as Malawi gears up for commercializing GM crops.

Bt cotton is at the variety registration trial stage, while Bt cowpea is in its second year of confined field trials (CFT) and virus resistant banana is in its first year of CFTs at proof of concept stage.

The trials are being conducted in nine field sites in all the regions of the country, and they are progressing very well.

Farmers are already asking for the seed, but are being made to understand that there has to be a process for the seed to be released to them. However, their hopes are high after being told that if all goes according to plan, the seed will be released in the next three years.

Genetically Modified Crops are plants used in agriculture, the DNA of which has been modified using genetic engineering methods. In most cases, the aim is to introduce a new trait to the plant which does not occur naturally in the species.

Representatives of the Agriculture ministry are revealing that the fall army worms that have hugely affected the Southern African region may affect the final crop estimates.

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