RWANDA-With Fall Army Worms wreaking havoc in grain fields across the continent, Rwanda is considering exploring biological control agents (Parasitoids) to contain the agents that are ravaging maize crops across the country.

Fall Armyworm, an insect that was first detected in Central and Western Africa in early 2016, is an insect pest that feeds on more than 80 crop species, causing damage to cereals such as maize, rice, sorghum, and legumes among others.

In Rwanda, the insect was first suspected to be present in February 2017 in the Mushishito wetland in Nyamagabe District and has continued to be a threat to cereal crops despite several measures placed to mitigate them.

By the end of April 2017, the outbreak had been reported in all 30 districts of the country and had infested an estimated 17,521 hectares of maize out of 46,403 planted.

These pests attacked 91.7 percent of the maize and sorghum planted in the Nyamagabe District, and 100 percent of the maize planted in the Nyanza and Muhanga Districts.

According to Athanase Hategekimana, the scientist in charge of combating crop diseases and pests at RAB the fall armyworms devastated maize crops during the current Agriculture Season that started in September last year.

“During the current agriculture season pests affecting different crops were recorded in many districts including armyworms that affected maize crops while other types of pests affected mangoes, beans, and others”

The Scientist added that the escalating infestation by pests is caused by climate change that triggered unusual dry spells in some parts of the country which we were not expecting this season.

He said that some farmers with small pieces of land tried to use their hands in collecting and killing the armyworms while others used pesticides but in vain.

As part of integrated pest management, the government has distributed some 1,000 liters of pesticides as direct support to some farmers in the quest to combat the damage caused by the insect.

However, the country is looking for ways to fight the insect as well as protect the ecosystem from the effect of the continual use of insecticides.

In this regard, Hategekimana disclosed that Rwanda, since December last year, has begun to work with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) to strengthen the capacity of extensionists to be more able to support farmers to effectively contain and manage the fall armyworm by using biological control agents.

“These biological control agents or parasitoids were used in neighboring countries such as Kenya and Tanzania to combat armyworms. The parasitoids or predators lay their eggs into fall armyworms’ eggs and then armyworms do not reproduce to affect crops,” he explained.

RAB said it is multiplying the parasitoids or predators in laboratories and conducting confined trials in Bugesera district and Kigali city before deployment to farmers.

Moreover, agricultural scientists in Rwanda are pushing for GM seeds that could help fight against pests, diseases, and drought that are devastating major crops in the country.

However, regarding the potential use of GM (genetically modified) maize to control the Fall Armyworm in Africa, FAO considers that it is yet too early to conclude.

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