Noah Ebije, Kaduna
When officials of the Federal Government and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) visited some farmers along the bank of River Kaduna on November 12, the joy of the farmers knew no bounds, as the officials were able to identify to them the strange pests rampaging their crops.
The officials gave the name of the pests as fall armyworms (FAW) which was said to have originated from South America, came into parts of Southern Nigeria some few years ago, and now finding their ways to the northern part of Nigeria.
According to FAO, fall armyworms are pests of more than 80 plant-eating species, which are currently causing damage to economically important cultivated cereals including maize, rice, sorghum, and also to vegetable crops and cotton in parts of the country.
The worm, native to tropical and subtropical regions of the North and South Americas, appeared in Africa in 2016 and spread rapidly to more than 40 countries including Nigeria.
The UN agency is retraining the extension service workers on the modified mobile app to help farmers intensify effort in the management and control of the pest to ensure maximum crop harvest to meet Nigeria’s current food security need.
The farmers would wake up every day and set for the farms, but on getting to the farms, the hitherto greenish growing maize in particular would have been eaten and torn into shreds, rendering the crops useless.
This was the dilemma the two identified farmers, Mr Musa Aboi and Abdallah Dan-Musa found themselves in until the agricultural experts visited their farms recently in Kaduna.
The leader of the farmers, Dan-Musa, who could communicate in English, spoke with the FAO officials.
Said he: “We are indeed very happy to see and receive you on our farms. Until you came to explain to us what is eating and destroying our farms, we did not actually know what is killing our crops, especially maize. These insects have destroyed our crops continuously year in year out.
“They crippled our harvest and subsequently our incomes. We hardly harvest 60 per cent of the crops, because of these things you called fall armyworms,” Dan-Musa said.
He informed that hundreds of farmers in Kaduna State were suffering the same fate and appealed to the state government and the FAO officials for help.
Apart from helping the farmers with pesticides, the FAO officials also educated the farmers on the need to apply local pesticides like ashes and sprinkle of water from soaked neem leaves on the crops as part of measures to eliminate the pests.
The tour of the farms was done immediately after a three-day event which was organised with the theme ‘the use of FAWMEWS app in the management and control of fall armyworms in Maize fields.”
FAO had earlier introduced the app being among the different measures taken to enable farmers control spread of the pest.
Selected extension service workers were drawn from maize-belt states of Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa, Borno and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for the event.
The FAO officials retrained the extension workers on modified app. They, in turn, were expected to train farmers on the use of the app for the management and control of the Army Worms.
They urged the farmers to embrace the modified FAWMEWS Mobile Application for effective control of the maize disease ravaging farms across the country.
The FAW project Desk officer, Ms Adeola Akinrinlola had, during a field study by participants to two farms along the River Kaduna in Barnawa area, said the modified app was more farmer-friendly and easier to handle by the farmers. It helps in early detection of warms on crops.
She said the app helps farmers and workers to calculate infestation level, check their crops for infestations and upload the required data.
“The app calculates infestation levels so that farmers can take immediate actions to manage the situation. The data is validated by national fall armyworms focal points and transferred to a global web-based platform. It is then analysed to give a real-time situation overview with maps of fall armyworms infestations and the measures that were most effective in reducing its impact.
“The 530,000 US dollar three-year FAO programme is being implemented in 12 selected states,” she said.
Also speaking, National Coordinator of the project, Dr Mufutau Adeleke said the Federal Government is supporting the programme in terms of personnel and logistics. Adeleke said farmers still face the challenges of how to control and manage the fall armyworms ravaging their crops.
“Many of our farmers lost up to 60 per cent of their produce annually due to the ravaging worms, thereby affecting their incomes and the nation’s food security,” he said.
Adeleke, however, explained that there were no available data of farmers or hectares of farmlands so far affected by the worm since its outbreak in 2016.
A participant and staff of Kano State Agriculture and Rural Development Authority, Nasiru Adamu said the FAO’s training on the mobile app, conducted between 2018 and now had been replicated to more than 1800 extension workers in the state.
Adamu, who is also one of the FAW focal persons in the state, said the extension workers were already conversant with the app, making it easy for them to use the modified mobile app.
He said hundreds of farmers had already been trained on the integrated pest management.
He noted that to him, a monthly training is also being conducted by the extension workers through the collaboration with Maize Farmers Association to tackle the pest in the state.
Adamu said the state had created nine training centres with three in each of the three senatorial zones, which had yielded positive results in the control and management of the pest.
Officials of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Kaduna State government, National Agriculture Quarantine Service, and the Institute of Agriculture Research and Training participated in the event.
Earlier in her address to declare the event open, a director at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mrs Karima Babangida said the training workshop, a collaboration between the Federal government and the UN FAO, was aimed at6 curtailing the spread of the worm in the maize belt states in the northern region.
Babangida said: “A meeting of stakeholders in the maize sub sector would further make us understand the importance of the maize value chain in agriculture, and also help us think of ways through which we can increase maize yield and specifically to manage and control fall armyworms in maize fields.
“One of the important vision of the Federal Government is to alleviate hunger and ensure food security through improved an agricultural sector that ensures regular food supply at affordable prices.
“You will all recall the recent scarcity of maize grains and the inability of some industries that depend on maize grains such as poultry and flourmills to meet their production targets because the price of maize grains got out of reach. The reasons for the scarcity, as you are all aware, include maize farmers inability to produce at optimum level due to invasion of fall armyworms, poor seeds and non-adherence to good agricultural practices.
“The issues relating to fall armyworms, especially, needed to be repeatedly discussed as the pest is actually robbing the farmers of their economic returns to farmers which is totally unacceptable as Nigerians depend so much on maize for food.”
She lauded the efforts of FAO and the technical support the organisation has been giving to the Nigerian Agricultural sector.