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. This outbreak comes in the wake of the strongest ever El Niño which caused a large humanitarian situation. Fall Armyworm is a new pest that has recently invaded the crop in a number of other countries in southern Africa such as DR Congo, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique.
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. The greater than usual severity of damage and the extent of affected fields resulted in use of desperate measures to treat infested fields with the ash or soil put into the funnel or even with detergents.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development (MoAIWD) adapted the standard recommendation for another armyworm that regularly infests maize fields, the African armyworm which is usually controlled using the pesticide Cypermethrin 200EC (at a dosage of 7.5 ml per 15l of water). Due to the aggressiveness of FAW, the dosages would be adjusted upwards to 15-20 ml per 15l of water.
Another confusion arose from the reports from the field which attributed the infestation due to another insect species, the false armyworm, and the rating of the damage often as “mild” to “moderate”, or “severe”, in limited cases. In order 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 was coupled with a dry spell of almost two weeks.
A further investigation showed that the MoAIWD had an significantly low stocks 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.
At a regional level, a meeting on the FAW Armyworm and other emerging transboundary pests and diseases was held in Harare, Zimbabwe followed by a number of in-country awareness building training sessions for government staff and partners across the region. In Malawi, information on the FAW was provided to development partners as well.
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 in order to rescue the young crop. Planning is also underway on how to effectively control the FAW on the upcoming winter and irrigated maize crops.