Govt seeks Shs25b to fight armyworm

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Cabinet is seeking Shs25b to buy pesticides to fight the fall armyworm, which threatens food security in the country.

The Agriculture state minister, Mr Christopher Kibazanga, said although farmers across the country are trying to cope with the unpredictable rain attributed to the changing climate, crop-destroying fall armyworm threatens food security efforts and require to be handled urgently.

“We have so far Shs10b towards purchase of pesticides to help our farmers across the country that don’t access to them. We also have a government taskforce on ground to help farmers combat the dangerous armyworm,” said Mr Kibazanga.

Mr Kibazanga said the presence of the deadly fall armyworm had been confirmed in more than 30 districts in the country and that the government joint task force is in eastern, northern, West Nile and western Uganda where they share messages on how to combat the outbreak of the worms.

According to the Uganda Agriculture 2015 Census, Uganda produces close to four million metric tonnes of maize grain annually up from 2.3 tonnes in 2009, contributing to the livelihoods of more than 3.6 million households, according to government statistics.

Dr William Wogoire, the director of National Coffee Research Institute in Kituza, Mukono District, said the threat posed to crop production by the armyworm threatens to destabilise food security in the country.

“This plague of crop-destroying fall armyworm caterpillars is spreading very fast in Uganda and could affect our economy that relies mainly on agriculture as it threatens the first season harvest in most farms across the country,” said Dr Wogoire.

A farmer’s experience
Mr Joel Cherop, an extensive maize farmer in Kapanguria parish, Kapchorwa District is worried that the armyworm is likely to cost him colossal sums of money from his five-acre maize garden in the area.

“These armyworm is worrying us. It eats everything that it touches, the leaves you see are shredded and residue speckles the inside of the plants—this is a tell-tale sign of trouble ahead for us as farmers,” Mr Cherop said.

He explained that the worms seem to be resistant to ordinary pesticides being used by many farmers and that it is devastating crops and threatening maize growing areas in the east.

“We are using chemical pesticides, which seemed to be effective, but the fall armyworm has developed resistance and seems to be immune now,” said Mr Cherop.

New pest
The United Nations estimates that 10.9 million people already don’t have enough to eat in Uganda. The effects of the armyworm are likely to worsen food insecurity.

Fall armyworm is native to the Americas and was first spotted in Nigeria and Togo last year, with one theory saying that the worm arrived in Africa on commercial flights from South America or in plants imported from the region.

According to Dr Okasai, it is a new pest that should not to be confused with the similarly named “African armyworm”, which has been present in Africa for many years.

The caterpillars eat maize, wheat, millet and rice – key food sources in southern and eastern Africa, where many areas are already struggling with shortages after years of severe drought and they also attack cotton, soybean, potato, cassava, ground nuts, and tobacco fields.

Dr Okasai Opolot, the director crop resources at the Ministry of Agriculture, said the country is headed for food insecurity if nothing is done to reverse the trend.

“If nothing is done, we could lose up to 15 per cent of our maize production,” Dr Okasai.

The Minister for the Presidency, Ms Esther Mbayo, said government was not taking the outbreak and attack of the armyworm lightly.

“Actually, as I speak now, the President has directed the Agriculture ministry to purchase pesticides and distribute them free of charge to various farmers across the country who are affected,” said Ms Mbayo.

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