Food security threatened as deadly pests invade farms in Northern Nigeria

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Right: Spodoptera frugiperda detected for the first time on the African continent. Left: Maize plant ravaged by the invasive moth. Credit IITA

By Mustapha Usman and Babayola Ibrahim

Farms in many states across the northern part of the country are infested by deadly pest, army worm’, raising fears of food shortage in the region.

Experts said the African armyworm (Spodoptera exempta) is an African moth, capable of destroying entire crops in a matter of weeks.

The pests, also known as nutgrass armywormi, have already destroyed some farms in Kano, Jigawa, Zamfara and Abuja, causing fears that the pests could cause severe shortage of food in the region.

Reports have shown that the caterpillars mainly attack germinating seedlings and could attack any type of plants.

The invasion of the pests had become a snag to the government ‘s commitment to diversify economy in the agricultural sector.

The farmers in the region had already expressed concern over the development, calling on the government to intervene in order to bring a lasting solution.

“I planted rice seedlings but to my displeasure, these pests had destroyed all the plants.  When I went to see how the plants were germinating, I just saw nothing there but the caterpillars that took over the land,” said Lawan Rogo, a rice farmer in Wasai, Minjibir Local Government of Kano State.

Mr Rogo added that as he reached to his farm, instead to see a land covered with green plants, he just saw that the land became brown and dried.

“Some of my colleagues who were affected had decided to hold a prayer session in order to seek divine intervention.  We prayed a lot and we also appeal to the government to come to our rescue,” he added.

Another affected farmer, Hassan Adamu, said the pests have destroyed all the plants at his farm last month.

Mr Adamu said the pests began to appear at his farm three days after he finished planting, adding “before I took any measure, it destroyed all the seedlings. It is a worrisome situation which needs government’s prompt intervention.”

Meanwhile, in Jigawa State, one Hassan Muhammad said the caterpillars had attacked all the rice seedlings he planted in his farm in Ringim Local Government area.

He said he decided to convene a special prayer session by both the affected and non-affected farmers to seek divine intervention.

Another farmer, Adamu Sarki said the caterpillars did not attack his farm much because he swiftly consulted experts when he first saw the pests beginning to appear at his farm.

“Though they started attacking my germinating seedlings but did not destroy the whole farm as some of my colleagues because I quickly consulted an expert who directed me to apply pesticides on the pests,” he said

“As I was spraying the pesticides, I saw the pests dying instantly. I also participated in the prayer session and I called on the government to intervene.”

Speaking on the development,  an Agricultural Extension Specialist,  Ahmad Abubakar, said the army worm was recently discovered in Abuja before it spread to states like Kano, Jigawa, Zamfara, Katsina, among others.

Mr Abubakar, popularly known as Ahmad Abubakar-Dr, also said the pests come in colours and after some days they metamorphosed to insects and fly away.

He added that reports have shown that the caterpillars have been discovered in more than 20 countries in Africa.

“It comes in colours. Though it is called army worm, but it comes in brown and black colours, not necessarily green. It is a dangerous caterpillar which can destroy a whole farm in three days,” he said

He suggested that when invaded a farm, the pests can be controlled through physical, biological and chemical control methods.

“You can control it physically by constructing drainage round the edge of the farm as the caterpillars can’t climb the drains. You can also use some birds like Guinea Fowl to eat up all the pests or thirdly, apply pesticides,” he explained.

“The application of the pesticides should be in the evening because it is the time when the pests appear. They don’t appear during the day time but come out when the sun heat subsided,” he advised.

Mr Abubakar also drew the attention of the Federal Government on the danger the pests were posing to the nation’s economy, especially as it committed to agriculture as a means of economic diversification.

He said: “I advise the federal government to consult agricultural research centers and universities to advise them on the way forward. The research centres would conduct investigations on how to tackle the menace of the pests.”

He finally allayed fears to farmers that the pests could be chased out with a massive rainfall, urging them to pray hard for the endowment of rainfall.

Rice and maize farmers in Adamawa and Taraba states, decried that the pests currently attacking farms also posed a threat to the poultry industry, which if not controlled will result in skyrocketing the prices of poultry products as maize is one of the major crops used for the production of poultry feeds in the country.

Hamman Ahidjo, who manages five hectares of maize and rice farm, said they have been struggling to keep the worm afar.

“Yes, we have recorded the ravaging army worms in our farms though the two days rain recorded have help in curbing its spread.

“If we don’t deal with it, maize production may become almost impossible here,” said he.

Also corroborating, AbdurRazaq Sarkinruwa who was met spraying his four-week old maize farm at Nyokkore lamented that his farms have already been completely infested with the worms and that he may lose everything in spite of the chemical he applied.

“I have to start spraying now because it is already affecting the maize and rice. The worms are eating right inside the stems and the leaves of the young plant which is just a month old. I need to spray chemicals on the farm at least three times before harvest, if at all I’m lucky to succeed,” Mr Sarkinruwa said.

Another maize farmer in Taraba, Sa’adu Wangra, had observed his crops threatened by the worms just few days after they started to germinate, so he sprayed the one and half hectare of maize farm when it was two weeks old.

He said he foresaw that the problem of army worms which destroyed his harvest last year would reoccur and so prepared to tackle the menace from its infancy stage by spraying the farm two weeks after planting.

Mr Wangra hopes to repeat the treatment again after 10 days and do it for the third time a month later before the maize would be due for harvest.

The outbreak of army worm in several western African nations has already raised alarm in the international community, with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation warning they pose “a huge threat to food security”.

Commenting on its effect, an Agriculture expert with Adamawa State Polytechnic Yola, Abdullahi Musa, explained that the impact of shortage of maize had become severe, particularly on poultry, and for a country facing food shortage, especially in the North-East, it should  not  be allowed  to continue.

According to him the pests eat maize, wheat, millet and rice—key food sources in Africa, where many areas are already struggling with shortages after years of severe drought.

In his words, “They also attack cotton, soybean, potato and tobacco fields. Chemical pesticides can be effective, but fall armyworms have developed resistance in the recent times.”

He further decried the lack of enthusiasm of some state governors towards agriculture, urging them to take the agricultural sector more seriously even at the state level.

“If nothing is done we could lose up to 15 percent of our maize production,” said the agric lecturer.

The Deputy Director of Horticulture of the Ministry of Agriculture, Mike Kanu,  said a total of N2.98 billion will be needed to contain the pest for about 700,000 hectares of land across the country.

“Implementation of the proposed intervention across the 36 states and FCT on 700,000 hectares for over 700,000 maize farmers is projected at N2.98 billion,” he said.

Mr Kanu said Nigeria is at a critical stage right now where an organic pesticide has to be used to bring the situation under control.

He however emphasized the need to use organic pesticides that will not leave residues as the usage of any harmful pesticide has a damaging effect on the human health.

In the wake of February’s outbreak of the pest, the Assistant Director and Desk Officer, Maize Value Chain, Adeleke Muftau, in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, said the pest usually found in maize posed a threat to national food security and availability of maize in the country, adding that the affected states were spread across the six geo-political zones of the country.

He said the government would embark on training for selected farmers to control the menace.

“The ministry is planning to train farmers on how to control the menace. We have visited farms and we have seen the devastation that has occurred in those farms and for us to reduce or alleviate farmers suffering and losses, we need to train them” he added.

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