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Economy

Agency warns of ‘worse’ armyworm invasion in maize

Fall armyworms
Fall armyworms were reported in the country for the first time in 2017. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya is facing a food crisis this year after a government research agency Wednesday raised alarm of the worst invasion of crop-eating caterpillars known as fall armyworms in maize fields, further depressing harvests.

Director-General of Kenya Agriculture Livestock and Research Organisation (Kalro) Eliud Kireger says erratic rains expected this year will create a conducive environment for the pests to thrive.

The armyworms cut maize production by nearly five million bags in 2017, hurting farmers’ earnings by as much as Sh15 billion.

The so-called long rains season from March to May delayed in most parts of the country, and now looks set to cut maize production substantially this year.

“We expect that this year the situation will be worse because of the scarcity of rains that will create a thriving environment for the pests,” said Dr Kireger.

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He added that the country has acquired five different types of pesticides to deal with the crop-eating caterpillars,

Dry spell

The deadly pests have been reported in parts of Uasin Gishu and Nandi Counties and have destroyed several hectares of maize crop that survived the effects of dry spell during the planting season.

Nairobi-based International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe) say control of fall armyworm through conventional methods, such as use of insecticides, is complicated becasue the adult stage of the pest is most active at night, and the infestation is only detected after damage has been caused to the crop.

The pest also has a diverse range of alternative host plants that enables its populations to persist and spread.

“Moreover, the fall armyworm has been shown to develop resistance to some insecticides, while the performance of such chemicals is also hindered by limited knowledge and purchasing power of farmers,” said Sunday Ekesi, Director of Research and Partnership, Icipe.

Dry weather across much of Kenya is likely to curb its economic growth this year, leave millions of people in need of food aid and drive up inflation on reduced supply of foods, especially the staple maize flour.

In April the World Bank cut Kenya’s economic growth forecast to 5.7 percent citing the rain failure.

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