Fall armyworm: Africa can help farmers access grants

09Apr 2019
The Guardian
Fall armyworm: Africa can help farmers access grants

The fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) is a species in the order of Lepidoptera and is the larval life stage of a fall armyworm moth.

The term ‘armyworm’ can refer to several species, often describing the large-scale invasive behaviour of the species' larval stage. It is regarded as a pest and can damage and destroy a wide variety of crops, which causes large economic damage. Its scientific name derives from frugiperda, which is Latin for lost fruit, named because of the species' ability to destroy crops.  

Because of its propensity for destruction, the fall armyworm's habits and possibilities for crop protection have been studied in depth. It is also a notable case for studying sympatric speciation, as it appears to be diverging into two species currently.  Another remarkable trait of the larva is that they practice cannibalism.


The fall armyworm   has been invasive in Africa since 2016. It was first reported in Africa in 2016, where it is causing significant damage to maize crops and has great potential for further spread and economic damage. It has since spread to 28 countries in Africa.

According to reports scientists have identified a biological weapon that could end the devastating effect of the fall armyworm in sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the FAO, fall armyworm has already spread across sub-Saharan Africa since its detection in the region in 2016, affecting millions of hectares of maize and sorghum. Fall armyworm threatens the food security of about 200 million people in Africa.

The biological weapon, known as Telenomus remus, is a parasitoid — an insect that completes its larval development within the body of another insect leading to the death of its host. It is being used to augment control of fall armyworm in the Americas, experts say.

T. remus has now been identified through DNA analysis in Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Niger and South Africa, according to a study published in the journal Insects recently. 

“T. remus is a vital tool that can fight against the fall armyworm, a pest that has the ability to cause yield losses of up to 20.6 million tonnes per annum in 12 of Africa’s maize-producing countries

  At the moment, control methods include mainly the massive use of broad-spectrum insecticides, which has serious economic, environmental and health impacts.

The use of natural enemies to control a pest, an approach called biological control, is environmentally more sustainable and has no negative impact on human health.

 Many teams in Africa are looking for natural enemies of fall armyworm in several African countries.

We hope that by using this parasitoid or other biological control agents, the quantity of synthetic insecticides used against fall armyworm will diminish.

  The main challenge will be to develop a production method specific for the African context that will be economically viable for farmers. African policymakers should begin to facilitate the use of T. remus as biological control agent through facilitating its registration .

With the new biological weapon that can fight against fall armyworm, African governments can help local farmers by making funds available through grants or subsidies so that they can have access to it.

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