The recent drought in some parts of the nation was unprecedented in the past 50 years. It has largely affected the pastoral community residing in the affected areas. The El Nino-induced draught has also posed considerable problems to the agrarian community. The disaster could have risked the lives of a great number of people, apart from a significant number of their domestic animals, had it been but government’s decision to manage the crisis swiftly with local capacity first. In response, the government has spent over 17.1 billion Birr the previous fiscal year to mitigate the burden of the drought. Though it has not been as expected, the humanitarian aid by the international community, governments and charitable organizations are pledging support for the crisis.
Notwithstanding the phenomenon, over 290 million quintals of produce was harvested from over 13 million hectares of land. The amount of harvest on the one hand shows that the national agricultural production is progressively increasing.On the other hand, the stretching out of the drought and its effect into the current year might reduce the expected amount of production- which is 345 million quintals of crops from over 12 million hectares deter the progress.
At any rate, succeeding 345 million quintals requires a tougher task of coordinating efforts towards boosting production and productivity nationwide, amid effects of the drought. Hence, the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources in collaboration with the states has supplied the necessary agricultural inputs before the main crop season. This is even preceded by such activities as dissemination of improved technologies, increased drought mitigation efforts and farmers’ training, etc. unlike the previous years with an intention to offset part of the loss of production due to the drought.
Accordingly, farmlands have been covered by seeds in Belg (the short rainy season) growing areas of the nation as planned. The speculated 345 mln. quintals of harvest might not be secured fearing that the ongoing pest invasion in many parts of the country could potentially cause unexpectedly huge damage on the yield.
According to a recent media briefing on the American- migrated pest from the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources, fall army worm has out broken in most parts of the country (Oromia, South, Gambella, Benishangul Gumuz,Tigray and Amhara states).
It has been reported that the pest spread over 46,320 ha. land in three months time since its entrance to Ethiopia’s southern part through the boarder of Kenya. Continental research centers and developmental organizations have indicated that fall armyworm has become the worst destructive pest in reducing maize production in Africa.
Fall armyworm is such a destructive pest that it feeds in large numbers on leaves and stems of more than over 100 plant species including economically important cultivated crops such as maize, millet, wheat, potato, soybean, cowpea, peanuts, sorghum, rice, sugarcane, even vegetables and cotton.
The entire life of fall armyworm is completed in 30 days during warm weather and it can take up to 90 days during cool weather.Eggs are usually laid on the underside of leaves. Total egg production per female averages about 1500 with a maximum of over 2000. Fall armyworm pest can travel up to five km with the help of wind. Due to these conditions the pest is found on maize farms of 235 weredas in 35 Zones.
Following this, the government has been working to block the expansion of the pest through the application of chemicals applying the conventional method as an option. Hence, efforts are underway to raise the awareness of the public on the potential damages the pest can cause, the harms and benefits of using chemicals for full-grown crops. As a result, farmers are now intensively using the traditional method in line with the chemicals.
Awareness creation efforts have also been intensified targeting the very difference between the recurrent pests and fall armyworms, and alerting the farmers. In this regard, soon after fall armyworm was identified three months back in Southern Nation, Nationalities and Peoples’ State, the ministry has provided relevant information on how to control this destructive pest to farmers and other concerned bodies. As part of this effort, the National Plant Protection Mobilization Symposium was held in Hawassa a week ago to disseminate relevant information about fall armyworm and other plant related issues for different stakeholders.
It was noted that the government has now obtained devices used to predict the direction of the pest. Previously, the unavailability of the devices was the daunting challenge the government faced. However, the devices were secured from the International Insect Pests Research Institute so that they would be planted in the affected areas to assess the magnitude of the spread and possible intervention.
Therefore, it is the success of the aforementioned and related interventions that determine the attainment of the 346 quintals of produce this Belg (short rainy) season, apart from environmental harshness.
Yet, a lasting control of armyworm is possible through a combination of cultural and chemical control. The cultural control includes avoiding late planting-for early harvest allows maize ears to escape the higher armyworm invasion that develop later in the season, intercropping of maize with non-host crops like sunflower and bean, and rotating maize cultivation with a non-host.
Further, preventing the movement of the pest from infested areas to non-infested areas, removing and destroying all crop residues after harvest, ploughing the soil deeply to expose larvae and pupae to the upper surface of the soil, regularly weeding the field and surroundings, conserving shelters for beneficial insects, and applying optimum fertilizer to improve crop vigor should be practiced.
In sum, since maize is the main produce of considerable farmers and covered wide areas as well as the bad coincidence with El Nino-induced drought, it would have been easy to predict the fall armyworm pest damage would be. Therefore, all actors and farmers should take controlling fall armyworm as a priority to exert concerted efforts before its devastating consequence.
BY BAHIRU SETEGNE