Fresh agony for farmers as armyworms ravage crops

Caroline Adongo

Caroline Adongo on her maize farm in Kisumu that has been attacked by fall armyworms.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Ojina | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • At least 33 counties are at risk of attack, though those in Western Kenya are currently the worst affected.
  • Farmers are using concoctions made from detergents and fermented pepper to control the pest.

Caroline Adongo stands inside her two-acre maize farm in Nyamasaria, Kisumu County, her hands akimbo.

Her demeanour captures her frustration as her entire maize crop has been attacked by fall armyworms.

The damage caused by the insects on her farm is visible from far. Nearly all the crops have their leaves perforated by the voracious pest, a sign of severe attack.

"Two weeks ago things were worse but ongoing rains have slowed them down. This is the worst infestation of armyworms I have ever witnessed on my farm. I wonder if my crops will survive,” she said.

Caroline is among hundreds of farmers who are staring at total crop failure due to attack by fall armyworms.

At least 33 counties are at risk of attack, though those in Western Kenya are currently the worst affected, according to Dr Francis Owino, the PS, State Department for Crops Development and Agricultural Research.

Dr Owino notes the pest has currently infested 500,000 acres.

Farmers are using concoctions made from detergents and fermented pepper to control the pest.

Charles Omondi, a farmer in Muhoroni, said the worms have completely destroyed his one-acre maize field despite applying chemicals . 

“They are resistant to the chemicals. I am losing hope. With the help of county agriculture officers, we sprayed the field but the insects were still aggressive,” said Omondi.

Like Omondi, Millicent Odhiambo, a farmer in Nyando, said  she sprayed her farm twice but there is no change. 

"I am now using a pepper concoction hoping that it will work.”

A 100ml bottle of insecticide used to contain the pest is going for Sh700. 

Armyworms

Close up image of armyworms destroying maize. 

Photo credit: Elizabeth Ojina | Nation Media Group

Some 10ml of the chemical should be mixed with 20 litres of water to spray an acre. The spraying should be repeated after two weeks, what has raised production costs for farmers.

In Kisumu, the county government has asked farmers to identify farms infested and alert agricultural officers to get the right chemicals to fight the insects.

Up to 40,000 smallholder farmers in Kisumu County have been affected by the destructive insects that have not only attacked maize but also sorghum and napier grass.

Kisumu Agriculture executive Gilchrist Okuom said  more than 10,000 acres with maize have been attacked.
"We have distributed 600 litres of chemicals to farmers and trained them on how to apply,” he said.

Okuom, however, raised concern that the chemical might not be enough to combat the infestation.

"We are appealing to the national government through the Directorate of Crops to intervene and help us get more chemicals," said Okuom.

Besides Kisumu, other areas in western which have been affected are Vihiga, Kakamega, Homa Bay, Migori, Bungoma and Busia counties.

Simlaw Seed Company chief research officer Robert Musyoki called on the national government to empower small-scale farmers  through training to fight the pest as well as create buffer zones to curb the spread of the armyworms to other areas.

The current outbreak comes at a critical time when farmers are in the main March-May maize planting season.

To stem spread of the pest, the national government has partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) to train agriculture officers in affected counties.

“The ministry is training youths across affected counties as spray service providers to spray farms,” said Dr Owino.

FAO agricultural entomologist, Dr George Ong’amo, said emergency response to the African armyworm outbreak is necessary to avert a food crisis.

“It is important we begin to train agriculture officers to handle the crisis we are facing,” said Dr Ong’amo.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.