The outbreak of the Fall Armyworm (FAW) in Malawi, an alien pest originating from the western hemisphere, was first reported in Blantyre and Machinga Agriculture Development Divisions (ADDs) before spreading to Kasungu, Mzuzu and Karonga ADDs. The infestation affected the crop at whorl, tasseling and cob formation stages, posing a significant threat to food security in the 2016/2017 consumption year. The Fall Armyworm also invaded crops in several other countries in southern Africa. In Malawi, the outbreak was initially under-rated due to the confusion caused by the apparent resemblance in the feeding damage signs presented by infested plants to that caused by the maize stalk borer.
Another confusion arose from the reports from the field which attributed the infestation to another insect species, the false armyworm, and the rating of the damage often as “mild” to “moderate”, or “severe”, in limited cases. To fully understand the situation prevailing in the field, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the MoAIWD conducted a scoping survey on the pest from 13-17 February 2017 in Kasungu, Mzuzu and Karonga ADDs where the maize crop was generally planted late due to the nature of the rainfall pattern for 2016/2017 season.
The survey revealed that FAW exclusively occurred with severe damage (34-61 percent of maize planting stations with damage signs in Kasungu ADD, 45-88 percent in Mzuzu ADD and 60-100 percent in Karonga ADD). Results of the survey showed that the pest had been feeding on the leaf whorl of maize plants, on developing tassels, and the ear and kernel, and that most of the crop was young, 4-8 weeks after planting. The pest situations were coupled with a dry spell of almost two weeks.
A further investigation showed that the MoAIWD had a significantly low stock of the insecticide Cypermethrin 200EC and could not appropriately respond to growing farmers’ demand for the control of the FAW. In response, FAO supported MoAIWD to raise the alarm and development partners promptly responded with commitments to support control interventions for the FAW in the immediate and medium to long terms, eventually aiming at an integrated pest management strategy for the country.
With the financial support of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), since March 2017, FAO continues to support the MoAIWD in the ongoing immediate term response through the provision of chemicals (Cypemethrin 200EC), personal protective gear and Jacto sprayers to rescue the young crop during winter cropping season and the next rain-fed harvest. Research is also underway on how to effectively control the FAW on the upcoming winter and irrigated maize crops. Information on how to spray, when to spray and what to spray has also been distributed widely and all stakeholders have been urged to disseminate the information to farmers.