16 June 2023, Zambia: CABI working with the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI) and the University of Zambia (UNZA) is embarking on a project, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), to advocate village-based biological control of the devastating fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) in rural Zambia.
The project will help improve livelihoods and ensure greater food security for smallholder farmers by helping them produce their own safer-to-use and more environmentally-friendly product to tackle the pest which can ravage maize crops.
Special focus will be placed on women and young farmers in communities where the project will seek to conduct more field trials of biocontrol agents as part of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plans that reduce the need for more toxic chemical pesticides.
The project was officially launched at the InterContinental Hotel in Lusaka, Zambia and included representatives from a range of partners including ZARI, UNZA, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), the Plant Quarantine and Phytosanitary Service (PQPS), National Agricultural Information Services (NAIS), World Food Programme (WFP), EU and GIZ.
The fall armyworm has become one of the most damaging invasive species in Zambia with at least 98% of smallholder farmers in the country affected by the pest during every cropping cycle. Estimated annual losses are in the region of US $159 million.
There are a range of possible biological control options for fall armyworm that includes baculoviruses and entomopathogenic fungi alongside 15 local parasitoids species that have been identified to develop successfully on the pest.
The work, for example, includes further investigation into the efficacy and local production of the entomopathogenic fungus Metarhizium rileyi which kills fall armyworm larvae and is already being developed in Australia.
The CABI-led PlantwisePlus programme, has seen the initial testing of the local strain of the fungus. Results appear promising for cascading this down to the smallholder farmer level and for local production.
CABI is also involved in the Plant Health Initiative of the OneCGIAR – ‘Impact Area: Environmental health & biodiversity, IPM of Fall Armyworm on maize in Africa and Asia,’ to test the Fawligen® product on research stations and in the communities to validate the approach for village-based biocontrol.
Léna Durocher-Granger, Project Scientist, Entomologist, based at CABI’s centre in Lusaka, Zambia, is leading the project and was lead author on a paper – published in the CABI Agriculture and Bioscience journal – which examined the potential for collective action to fight the fall armyworm with biological controls in rural Zambia.
The research, which was conducted in partnership with colleagues from ZARI and Wageningen University and Research, found that some conditions are already in place but others need to be strengthened for collective pest management of the fall armyworm to be sustainable.
Ms Durocher-Granger said, “This research aims to propose and promote to farmers an effective and environmentally benign pest management method based on exploiting locally amplified biological control agents.
“Co-designing the proposed interventions with farmers and using experimental fields as biological control learning sites will foster interest for the innovations and greater adoption for lower risk management options for fall armyworm.”
“It is envisaged that if successfully developed in Zambia, these methodologies could be adopted in other regions with similar agroecological systems affected by fall armyworm invasions, significantly magnifying the impacts of this research,” added Dr Noah Phiri, CABI’s Regional Representative in Southern Africa.
Dr Phiri further stressed that Metarhizium usage has high potential in Zambia under smallholder system due to the presence of an adapted fall armyworm strain, and rapid action of the fungus in killing fall armyworm larvae.
Preliminary bioassays also suggest that inoculation of fall armyworm larvae collected from the field does not kill the parasitoid larvae already developing inside the fall armyworm larvae and parasitoids can still develop successfully into adults.
Speaking at the event Mr Green Mbozi, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Agriculture expressed how the fall armyworm has caused enormous damage to the country’s staple food maize, prompting Government to spend a lot of resources in its efforts to curb its spread.
Mr Mbozi explained that the management of fall armyworm is mostly dependent on the use of conventional chemical pesticides, which utilises a field-by-field approach. Currently, nearly 43% of farmers use pesticides every season with three out of every 10 farmers using highly hazardous pesticides, some of which are listed in the Rotterdam convention.
“The excessive use of pesticides impacts on food quality, the natural environment, farming communities’ health and food safety and can lead to insecticide resistance,” he added.
As part of the project, it is anticipated that physical exchanges between Australian researchers and the team of scientists in Zambia will take place to further investigate the small-scale production of M. rileyi and make it sustainable with local resources.
Results from the baculovirus work, supported under the OneCGIAR Plant Health Initiative, has demonstrated that the technology works and is ready for validation and scaling out. The ACIAR funding will test the model at the village level where farmers can produce the raw product on their own as well as options for reaching scale.
Funding from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), meanwhile, developed an IPM strategy for fall armyworm in Zambia where the use of nature-based solutions has already been prioritized as a matter of policy.
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