Cereals growers in North Rift Kenya region are staring at heavy losses due to the re-emergence of the army-worm. The worm invasion has increased production costs and also threatens farm yields. Several counties in the region are in the process of trying to contain the spread of the deadly pest. Furthermore, agricultural experts have warned of a looming national food disaster unless the outbreak is contained.
Army-worms are blamed for the loss of nearly 20% of the 2m bags of maize, which was to be last season’s harvest. According to media reports, the pest found its way into the country from Uganda. This is after an earlier outbreak in Ghana and South Africa. It was first reported in North and South America.
Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization director general Eliud Kireger said the worm’s larvae – caterpillars – cause severe damage to more than 80 plant species, including maize, sorghum, rice, millet, wheat and barley.
Moreover, it also attacks fodder crops such as Bermuda and Napier grasses, sugarcane and cotton. Other susceptible crops, include kales, cabbages, legumes, bananas, tomatoes, capsicum, ginger, spinach, onions, sugar beet, citrus, cucumber and sunflower.
Kenya Seed Company managing director Azariah Soi said the pest was tolerant to most pesticides. This, he says, is because the worms burrow inside maize stems and cobs, making it difficult for farmers to detect. Once inside, the worm can lay up to 50 eggs in one location, leading to rapid destruction.
Mr Johnston Irungu, the director of crops in the Ministry of Agriculture, said a technical team had been sent to the affected areas to combat the spread of the pest. He further revealed that some local experts had been sent to Brazil to learn how the country has managed to deal with the menace.