Fall armyworm invasion creates massive communications challenge in Africa

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At a time when many countries are facing severe challenges to feed their populations, an invasive species is threatening to wipe out huge swaths of staple crops across the continent.

Join Devex on the ground as we capture photo and video of the event heightening food insecurity.

The attack last year was “fast and furious,” said 65-year old Kenyan farmer Wycliffe Ngodu. All of a sudden, his maize crop was riddled with holes and crawling with worms. It was like nothing he had seen in his lifetime working as a farmer. The worms killed about half his crop; this year they have come back for more.

Fall armyworm, an invasive species of moth, was first detected on the African continent in 2016. Since then, it has quickly spread to nearly all of sub-Saharan Africa. The moth reproduces fast and can travel long distances. A moth can fly more than 300 miles before landing and laying eggs — which hatch into the damaging larvae worms.

The worms threaten to wipe out huge swaths of maize crops across the continent, a major staple in Africa, among other crops. At a time when many countries are already facing severe challenges to feed their populations, this would only heighten food insecurity. Damages from the armyworm could reach as high as an estimated $6.2 billion per year in Africa.

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The invasion of the fall armyworm caught African farmers off guard, with many lacking the knowledge to rid their crops of it. This has created a “tremendous challenge in communications,” said B.M. Prasanna, director of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research Program on Maize and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center Global Maize Program, or CIMMYT, as countries and the development sector scramble to teach farmers about this pest, in order to curb losses from the invasion.

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About the author

  • Headshot sarajerving

    Sara Jerving

    Sara Jerving is Devex's East Africa Correspondent based in Nairobi. She is a reporter and producer, whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Vice News, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Nation magazine, among others. Sara holds a master's degree in business and economic reporting from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism where she was a Lorana Sullivan fellow.