Armyworm: Cereals growers in North Rift region, the country’s grain basket, are staring at heavy losses due to the re-emergence of the Fall armyworm.
The worm invasion has increased production costs and also threatens farm yields.
Several counties in the region are racing against time to contain the spread of the deadly pest, with agricultural experts warning of a looming national food disaster unless the outbreak is contained.
The worm has been reported in Trans Nzoia, Nandi, Uasin Gishu, Kericho, Nyamira, Bungoma, and Busia counties.
It is blamed for the loss of nearly 20 per cent of the two million bags of maize, which was to be last season’s harvest.
The pest found its way into the country from Uganda after an earlier outbreak in Ghana and South Africa. It was first reported in North and South America.
Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation director general Eliud Kireger said the worm’s larvae – caterpillars – cause severe damage to more than 80 plant species, including maize, sorghum, rice, millet, wheat and barley.
It also attacks fodder crops such as Bermuda and Napier grasses, sugarcane and cotton.
Other susceptible crops, include kales, cabbages, legumes, bananas, tomatoes, capsicum, ginger, spinach, onions, sugar beet, citrus, cucumber and sunflower.
“The infestation in maize plantations signals a tough season for farmers since they did not factor the cost of fighting the pests into their budgets,” said Mr William Kimosong, the Trans Nzoia branch chairman of the Kenya National Farmers Federation (Kenaff).
Mr Kimosong said a broad spectrum of pesticides recommended by the Ministry of Agriculture was very expensive, with the cheapest selling at Sh20,000 a litre but only sprays one acre.
“This spells doom for us, coupled with the high cost of farm inputs, the drought in some parts of the region and the unstable maize market,” said Mr Andrew Rotich, a farmer from Cherangany, Trans Nzoia County.
Kenya Seed Company managing director Azariah Soi said the vicious pest was tolerant to most pesticides.
“Unlike the African armyworm, the Fall armyworm, which is dispersed by wind, burrows inside maize stems and cobs, making it difficult to detect. It can lay up to six generations of up to 50 eggs in one location, leading to rapid destruction,” said Mr Soi in a previous interview.
Mr Johnston Irungu, the director of crops in the Ministry of Agriculture, said a technical team had been sent to the affected 42 counties to combat the spread of the destructive pest.
He also revealed that some local experts had been sent to Brazil to learn how the country has managed to deal with the menace.
Obaseki Bans Grazing For Three Months, Sets Up Special Task Force
As an interim measure to forestall further killings and destruction of farmlands by suspected herdsmen, Governor Godwin Obaseki yesterday announced the banning of grazing of any sort in the vast forests and farmlands around Odighi, Owan, Odigwete communities in Ovia North East local council area.
Besides, the governor also banned all illegal cattle markets in the state.
Obaseki announced the ban during a meeting with members of Odighi, Owan and Odigwuetue communities at the palace of the Enogie of Odighi Community in Ovia North East Local Government Council of the state.
The governor said the ban became necessary to stop further killings as the duty of his administration is to protect lives and property of the people of the state.
Obaseki was accompanied by the Commissioner of Police, Johnson Kokumo, Director, Department of State Security (DSS), his Chief of Staff, Taiwo Akerele and other political appointees to Odighi where early this month, suspected herdsmen killed a Pastor of the Church of God Mission, Pius Eromosele in his farm after they allegedly demanded a ransom of N4 million.
Within the period, the governor said a special task force made up of personnel from the police, army, DSS and local vigilante groups in the area would comb the forests to identify and take statistics of the camps and all herdsmen operating in the area and thereafter there would be designated areas where edible grasses for cattle would be grown and the herdsmen and their herds confined to the areas.
“We have set up a special taskforce made up of the Army, Police, State Security Service, hunters and vigilante groups to comb the bushes and dislodge squatter camps of killer herdsmen and ensure no grazing takes place in Odighi, Odiguetue communities and environs”.
It was a tale of woe and anguish as the indigenes of the communities at the meeting recalled various sad stories and experiences. They lamented that they have abandoned their farms and many of their sons and daughters are drifting to the state capital to become labourers just as they lamented their women either go to fetch water or their farms in groups or escorted by hunters and men from the community.
The governor who had earlier attended the Sunday service at St Stephens Anglican Church said; “You have lived in these communities with herdsmen be they Hausa, Fulani, Chadians over the years, the issue now is what has happened and why has this relationship deteriorated, as the president said, this is part of a major security challenge we have faced on the continent and in particular Nigeria.
“But as a government, it is our responsibility to face any challenge that comes our way. Part of this is to destabilise us either by directly attacking and also to create confusion and communal clashes amongst us even within the country.
“What we see now are not herdsmen the way we use to see them, these are criminals and these are militants and we don’t want you to mix them with those who live with us peacefully so we want to separate them from those who are criminals.
There are two things they are doing, they are doing cattle rustling and they come here to look for market to sell them so they will go to the farm, they will eat whatever they can find so that they can fatten the cows so the first thing we have done is to ban illegal cow markets so anybody who is going to sell cows, we know the market and where the cows are coming from.
“I cannot accept the situation in these communities any further so for the next 90 days, we ban grazing in these communities. “