Fighting Fall Armyworm at Mbarara Farm

Nine days after planting the seeds at our farm in Uganda this spring, our team on the ground, led by our farm managers Daniel Murunga and Dan Kilimani, headed out into the field to inspect the germination process. At an initial glance, the team saw something troubling. Some of the seeds appeared to be showing signs of stress and withering. Following this discovery, the farm team took a deeper look, discovering something very concerning within the tiny shoots and leaves: fall armyworms.

Fall Armyworm is the name given to the larval life stage of a type of moth, which is a quite invasive and notorious pest, well-known for its ability to destroy crops. While not native to Africa, Fall Armyworm became invasive on the continent in 2016 and has been wreaking havoc on African farmland since – presenting a very devastating supply chain and economic threat to farmers and the global food chain. Given its newness to the continent, African governments have been still working to respond to the situation, leaving desperate farmers reliant upon private sector solutions.

“The government has done very little research to help provide farmers with lasting solutions,” said WFB Farm Manager Daniel Murunga. “Instead this has been left to the private sector, which so far has also not been very effective. Many in the private sector have exploited the situation by fleecing farmers with sub-standard pesticides.”

Upon discovering the fall armyworm at our farm, our team immediately reached out to Dr. Phineas Tukamuhabwa, our agronomist and partner at Makerere University, who came to the farm to inspect the land for himself.

“He recommended the application of two, well-researched pesticides that they had successfully applied on the University of Makerere farm,” said Dan M. “The mixture of the two chemicals was to be done immediately and repeatedly every 14 days until after the flowering had occurred. You can imagine doing this on 200 acres of maize and the cost implication of it, which had not been budgeted for.”

Thankfully, we were able to successfully implement Prof. Tukamuhabwa’s advice, and we are also adhering his caution on procuring seeds, as certain companies have been known to sell seed contaminated by armyworm. We are also in regular communication with our neighbors and the government, which is supposed to notify farmers when fall armyworm has invaded an area, to monitor the situation around us. So far, we have not heard any other reports.

Unfortunately, stories like this one are very common across Uganda and Sub-Saharan Africa, and unfortunately, most farmers in this region of the world are not at all equipped to handle or respond to pest invasions, particularly fall armyworm invasions. The prevalence of this situation has led to much discouragement among local farmers, many of whom have in turn decided not to farm maize, says Dan. In an effort to avoid pests, this further compounds the region’s supply issues.

We at the World Food Bank plan to be part of the solution to fighting this pest on the African continent, and we believe that the solutions we have discovered with our partners at Makerere University can provide a model for government institutions working to help local farmers, as well as local farmers themselves.