The armyworm disaster

Saturday April 1 2017

By Michael J. Ssali

The armyworm was mentioned in this column on February 18. Back then it was referred to as a threat that we faced since it had been reported to have invaded countries such as South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe and even forced the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to hold an emergency meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe on February 14-16.

According to Agri-money, the invading caterpillars were of the fall armyworm which are endemic in the Americas but had reached Africa last year when they were found in Nigeria before spreading to nearby countries.

The Minister of Agriculture, Vincent Ssempijja, confirmed last week that Uganda too is under attack by the armyworm and that it was fast destroying maize and sorghum crops and some species of pasture grass.

He said the pest is most dangerous during the rainy season. We are yet to be told, however, whether the caterpillars we are hosting are the fall armyworm or the equally dangerous African armyworm than can destroy entire crops within weeks.

According to Wikipedia, African armyworms tend to strike in very high densities during the rainy season especially after periods of prolonged drought.

We have just come out of such a dry spell with an ‘over-doze’ of food insecurity, and the arrival of such a dangerous pest as the armyworm is the last thing we deserved. Our farmers will need a lot of training in fighting the armyworm and some money must be secured to procure the requisite pesticides to deal with it. It will be one thing for the herbicides to be available in the farmers’ shops and another for the individual farmers to afford their cost.

Uganda produces an estimated 1,500,000 metric tonnes of maize annually. ( Ten per cent of this is used to make animal feeds while the rest is consumed as human food or exported to neighbouring countries.

The arrival of the armyworm means big food shortages when it is remembered that our other food crops such as bananas, cassava, and sweet potatoes, are being wiped out by pests that have no known cure.