Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett has warned that the country’s annual maize yield could drop by 20-25 per cent this year due to the invasion and the continued spread of the fall armyworm.
Mr Bett said the government was worried about Kenya’s future food security as the pest continues to invade more maize farms in new regions across the country.
He said the invasive pest, which was previously reported only in western Kenya, has since crossed to Kwale in the coastal region and other areas, further complicating an already wobbly food security situation.
“Our research has found out that this pest attacks farm at night because it is nocturnal. In that case, we call on farmers to spray their farms in the evening which is the time the pest come out to attack crops,” Mr Bett said.
The CS was speaking on Wednesday at the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) in Nairobi where he received a donation of farm chemicals from Bayer East Africa, a chemical manufacturing firm, worth Sh10 million aimed at combating the notorious pest.
He asked farmers to change their pest control regime so as to contain the spread of the worm.
He also called on chemical manufacturers to consider huge discounts for smallholder farmers and step up fall armyworm awareness campaigns to educate farmers on what chemicals to be used and their application techniques.
Mr Bett added that the Ministry of Agriculture had approved at least nine chemicals for controlling the pest including Belt, manufactured by Bayer East Africa, which will be distributed to smallholder farmers in Kwale, Nandi, Kirinyaga, Kakamega and Uasin Gishu Counties.
“Researchers are exploring biological means of controlling the pest but currently, chemical control is the way to go but I have challenged KALRO and other institutions to study what other countries are doing other than the use of chemicals to fight this worm. We are open to those alternative methods and I think those are the only ways we can manage the pest,” said the CS.
The worm, according to the UN agency Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is native to the Americas but no one knows how it exactly crossed the seas to Africa.
He said the ministry will decide on the continued importation of maize during the harvest months of October and November as accurate projections will then be possible to make.
“Our harvests will start coming in from October or November going forward but now we are importing maize because of the drought, whose effects we are still experiencing, and fall armyworms which we are estimating will affect our productivity by 20 to 25 per cent,” he said.
He said the government has currently imported enough maize to feed Kenyans but there will be need to import more in the future to fill the gap as the government had no clear projections on the extent of the effects of the drought and the pest.
“It is only the logistics otherwise all the maize, enough to feed all Kenyans, is in the country specifically in Mombasa where we are offloading 24-7. As we speak now we are mobilising all the resources to make sure that it reaches every Kenyan.
“When a pipe is empty it takes time to fill it and so we are filling the pipe before you start feeling the full impact of the maize in all supermarkets,” added the CS.
Bayer East Africa's managing director, Eric Bureau, noted that the pest was not only threatening famers’ food security but their income as well.
He said the product they had donated would efficiently tackle the new pest and alleviate severe food shortage being experienced.
“Since the outbreak of this pest in Kenya we have monitored the situation closely by putting agronomists on the ground. Belt has successfully been used by farmers in Brazil, South Africa and Zimbabwe,” said Mr Bureau.
He said Bayer had put out a team of agronomists on the ground to train and educate the farmers on the use of the product.
He said the team was also communicating with authorities in Nairobi and in the counties.
“It is not only a question of having the products available but you also need to use it in the proper way and safely and this is where we can also contribute in training and helping farmers use the agrochemicals safely and efficiently,” he said.