The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has stated that fall armyworm is estimated to cause Africa nearly $10 billion in annual maize yield losses.
The United Nations food body also stated that the pest could also feed on up to 80 other crops if not controlled.
The Director General of FAO, Mr. Qu Dongyu, said at the 5th Steering Committee Meeting on Global Action for Fall Armyworm Control in Rome, said over 70 countries in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and the Near East are reporting infestations of the pest, warning that fall armyworm knows no boundaries as it accelerates its march across the planet.
According to him, fall armyworm is predictable and manageable with large-scale damage preventable through consistent, strong and effective coordination at all levels.
He said in 2016, only six African countries reported fall armyworm outside its native range, saying that in October this year, it was found to have reached the Solomon Islands in the Pacific.
The director-general, however, urged all stakeholders to scale up global response to fall armyworm, as the invasive pest continues to spread rapidly to new countries and territories, causing serious damage to food production and affecting millions of farmers across the globe.
He noted that despite the worrying trend, he highlighted the significant progress made in the fight against the pest achieved by the Global Action for Fall Armyworm Control, a coordination mechanism he established in 2019 that covered Africa, the Near East and Asia-Pacific.
He pointed out that the Global Action helps to link technical partners to deliver science-based control solutions directly to farmers in the field where they are most needed.
“Likewise, technical guidelines for fall armyworm prevention and preparedness from FAO and the International Plant Protection Convention are helping countries to ensure the necessary mitigation measures,” he added.
The director-general also pointed to many challenges that still need to be addressed in the sustainable management of fall armyworm, maintaining that COVID-19 related restrictions, economic downturn, limited capacities to test and scale-up the control solutions in some countries, and the lack of financial resources to expand the work to pilot countries, all hamper implementation of the Global Action.
He emphasised the need for more funding, more technical innovation and more capacity development for farmers in order to help countries limit its spread, mitigate damage and protect food security.
Dongyu also highlighted the importance of developing migration monitoring and early warning systems as the next critical step in the fight against the pest.
He said the Steering Committee for the Global Action on Fall Armyworm, which brought together high-level decision-makers and strategic leaders to provide programmatic orientation and oversight of the implementation of the Global Action, review the key achievements that have been made in the two years since its inception, analysed the major challenges, and provided strategic inputs for implementation in 2022 and beyond.
Between 2020 and 2021, some demonstration countries reported a yield loss range of between three and five percent, which is aligned with the objectives set in the Global Action.
“When fall armyworm is first detected, countries often see an average annual yield loss of between 10 and 20 per cent. Another achievement is improved pest management practices in a number of countries,” he added.
In addition, two major guidelines on integrated pest management and prevention and preparedness were developed through the FAO coordination mechanism and published in multiple languages. A series of training sessions were conducted at global, regional and national level engaging more than 9,000 participants.
Major initiatives for the next year would include demonstration and extension of practical fall armyworm control technologies in farmers’ fields, a global action impact study, the development of technology evaluation protocols, and focus on resource mobilisation at regional and national levels.