Farmers in Botswana have been urged to remain alert to the presence of fall armyworm (FAW) during the current crop production season, and to regularly scout their crops for larvae and eggs in their lands.
Armyworms are an invasive pest from the Americas that has devastated crops in Africa since 2016. They feed on cereal crops like maize.
While the focus during the 2019/20 planting season has also been on alleviating drought, the Japanese government in partnership with the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) Botswana alongside the Botswana government this past week began national training workshops aimed at fall armyworm pest control in Mahalapye.
Ministry of Agricultural development and food security public relations officer Bautule Kealatotswe said ”the purpose of the workshops are to raise awareness and teach farmers how to manage the Fall armyworm, such as using physical methods of pest control. We want farmers to eliminate the fall armyworm using cultural methods tillage, strategic planting dates, and crop rotation to interrupt the pest`s lifecycle. We don’t want them to use chemicals as the Fall armyworm can overtime develop a resistance.”
“The training workshops are sponsored by the Japanese government and their purpose is to help local farmers to be able to identify and manage the Fall armyworm pest. It was sponsored at a tune of P5 million, to engage all farmers across different districts in the country,” Kealatotswe said.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation states that Botswana had first reported cases of Fall armyworm in 2017 and the pest can travel long distances and reproduce in large numbers, devouring crops such as maize and sorghum and reducing yields across the country. In the SADC region all countries except Lesotho had experienced the outbreak of the Fall armyworm.
The Fall armyworm is known to burrow itself inside crops and it feeds on the plant from the inside, this ultimately leads to stunted growth of crops and sometimes low yields. The fall armyworm also lays its eggs on the leaves, farmers who regularly check up on their farms can be able to identify its presence.
Initial personnel training on Fall armyworm in Botswana began at senior management level trickling down to extension officers, who in turn would train farmers. FAO consultant Joyce Mulilamitti said “We have already started training farmers in Mahalapye and Tonota, where the reception has been positive. We expect these training workshops to cover all major food production areas in the country and to last up to March.”
“The training workshops in the different areas we visit will last for two days, with day one being a classroom setting of charts and presentations. The second day will be a field visit to show farmers how the Fall armyworm affects crops and also ensure they do not confuse it with other caterpillars,” Mulilamitti said.
Mulilamitti explained that during the outbreak Governments across the world were giving out pesticides to farmers to deal with the Fall armyworm pest. However chemicals are dangerous not only to the environment but to people as well, so the training workshops will encourage farmers to use other methods of managing the pest.
The Ministry of Agricultural production and FAO Botswana will conduct training workshops that will ensure there is skills share, farmers are trained so that they can train other farmers as well. FAO will also be orientating farmers about new mobile application called Fall Armyworm Monitoring and Early Warning System, introduced back in 2018, to help track the presence of the Fall armyworm.
In 2019 the government of Japan availed US$ 500 000 to FAO to work with Botswana government to fight Fall Armyworm (FAW) in the country. The funds are to assist about 36 000 small farmers in Botswana and this past week training workshops began to afford farmers knowledge and skills on controlling the pest.