Ugandan smallholder farmers confident in combating fall armyworm, but experts warn of resistance development and environmental risks

A recent survey conducted in Uganda revealed that many smallholder farmers in Kamuli and Namutumba districts are confident that they can effectively manage the fall armyworm, a pest that poses a serious threat to maize production in the region. The farmers believe that there are several management and control options available to them, which can help mitigate the impacts of this devastating crop pest.

Although the fall armyworm was first recorded in Uganda in 2016, the surveyed farmers stated that they can tackle the pest effectively if they have access to appropriate and effective chemical insecticides and are able to apply them correctly, following recommended procedures. The research findings were published in the CABI Agriculture and Bioscience journal.

The survey revealed that a majority of farmers in both districts, approximately 84% in Kamuli and 90% in Namutumba, primarily rely on chemical control methods to tackle the fall armyworm. However, some farmers also reported using other methods, such as regular weeding and handpicking. The use of biological extracts, such as pepper, tobacco, Aloe-vera, Lantana, and sisal, was less common among the farmers.

Maize is a crucial cereal crop in Uganda, grown by smallholder farmers for food, as a cash crop, and for export purposes. The production of maize has significantly increased in recent years, from 2.8 million metric tons in 2015 to 4 million metric tons in 2017, owing to the high demand for maize products and favorable climatic conditions that allow for two cropping seasons annually.

However, maize crops are susceptible to a range of pests and diseases, including the fall armyworm, whose incidence and severity depend on several factors such as weather conditions, soil quality, interactions with other arthropod species, and the level of maize resistance/susceptibility.

Lead author of the research, Dr. Andrew Kalyebi, explained that the study aimed to document successful and unsuccessful practices in managing the fall armyworm in Uganda, providing insights that could help design sustainable pest management strategies. The research documented the diverse actions employed by farmers to combat the pest and their perception of the effectiveness of pest control efforts.

The research team, which included scientists from the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) and The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), cautioned that the frequent use of insecticides could lead to resistance development in the fall armyworm population. The scientists advise against the overuse of insecticides as it could increase selection pressure on the pest population, either individually or in combination with other insecticides.

The study revealed that some commonly used insecticides, such as lambda-cyhalothrin and emermectin benzoate, were considered effective in managing the fall armyworm by farmers in the districts. However, the same insecticides were also found to pose a high risk to human and environmental health. As a result, Dr. Kalyebi recommended that the government sensitize farmers on the proper use of insecticides, regulate access to insecticides along the supply chain, and find safer alternatives to mitigate health and environmental risks.

He also suggested that further research should be conducted to test for resistance traits in local field populations of fall armyworm, document the extent of resistance, and prepare neighboring regions. While farmers’ confidence in dealing with the fall armyworm is encouraging, Dr. Kalyebi cautioned that the development of widespread resistance to popular insecticides could undermine this confidence.

He emphasized the importance of continuous sharing and transfer of experience, knowledge, and technologies by farmers, combined with research efforts to develop new control options, such as the exporting of efficacies of endemic ethnomopathogenic fungi. These efforts could contribute to the development of long-term sustainable management of the fall armyworm.

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