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Armyworm: Kenya discourages the movement of plant materials

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Kenya’s ministry of agriculture has announced invasion of fall armyworms in the country and discouraged citizens from moving plant materials from one region to another as the pest ravages farms in the East African nation.

The pests have infested several farms targeting mainly maize, thus, worsening the country’s food crisis affected by a six month drought.

"The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries announces the invasion of fall armyworms in western, southern and south rift regions.

"The public is discouraged from moving infested plant materials to areas where the pest has not been detected," said the ministry in a statement Thursday.

In Kenya, the movement of green maize for roasting is a thriving business, posing a serious threat in spreading the pest.

The ministry identified a variety of crops that the pest is ravaging, including cereals such as sorghum, millet, rice, millet, wheat, maize and barley.

Pasture grasses like Bermuda, hay and Napier grass are also being attacked by the pest, the ministry said.

"Other susceptible crops include kales, cabbages, legumes or pulses, bananas, tomatoes, capsicum, ginger, spinach, amaranth, onions, sugar beet, citrus, cucumber and sunflower."

The ministry noted that the armyworm is a migratory pest, with the adult pest having a capacity to fly over 30km drifting through air current.

"Fall armyworm is a ferocious feeder which upon invasion quickly destroys maize.

"The caterpillar feeds on the outer foliage making large and ragged holes.

"Attack on maize at early vegetative stage can result into 100 percent loss if no control measures are taken," said the ministry.

Farmers in different parts of East Africa’s biggest economy, especially those in maize growing areas like Bungoma, Busia, Siaya and Kakamega and wheat growing areas like Nakuru and Uasin Gishu, have reported armyworm infestation.

The invasion spells a huge trouble for citizens, who consume up to 4 million bags of maize every month, according to the ministry, with the country producing only 40 million bags annually and the rest is imported.

"Maize is the most important staple in Kenya with a per capita consumption of more than 78kg per annum.

"Currently, approximately 11,000 hectares of off-season maize have been infested.

"Therefore, the pest has the potential to cause national food insecurity.

"This pest is of great socio-economic importance and warrants attention," said the government agency.

The armyworm, according to the ministry, undergoes full egg-larva-pupa-adult metamorphosis, with the female laying tiny eggs in masses of 150-200 covered by a protective protein sheath, making it hard to eliminate.

However, the ministry recommends late evening spraying with requisite chemicals at least three times starting at two weeks after emergence, then when the maize is at knee high and just before tussling.

"Plant early and adhere to regional planting calendar, use recommended fertilizers and keep fields weed-free to boost plant vigour," the government told farmers.

County governments in affected regions have allocated millions of U.S. dollars to help farmers fight the pest. Farmers, on their own, however are also recording some level of success in fighting the pest, with some noting it is just a matter of time before they eliminate the armyworms.

"For now, I have tamed the worms through constant spraying.

"Farmers should remain vigilant all the time looking for signs of new attacks and spray with pesticides immediately.

"One should never spray once and believe the armyworms have been eliminated," Samuel Ambuche, a farmer in Bungoma, said Thursday.



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