NAIROBI, (Xinhua) -- Kenya's food security situation faces a fresh threat as armyworms invade maize farms in different parts of the east African nation.
The country is currently grappling with a serious food crisis mainly caused by poor rains that has seen prices rise considerably, with a 2kg tin of dry maize going for a record 1.4 U.S. dollars. In mitigation, the government has allowed millers and traders to import the staple from as far as Mexico tax-free in a bid to bring down the cost of the produce consumed by millions. The armyworms invasion, therefore, spells a huge trouble for East African's citizens, who consume up to 4 million bags of maize every month, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, with the country producing only 40 million bags annually.
Farmers in various parts of the country, especially where maize is grown, have reported armyworm infestation, with many calling for help as thousands of the insects feast on their crops. The worms have been sighted in Trans Nzoia, Nakuru and Uasin Gishu in Rift Valley, Kakamega and Bungoma in Western Kenya, and Kwale at the Coast. Apart from maize, also under threat are sorghum, millet and wheat farmers, with experts noting that the deadly pest further poses danger to the livestock sector as it attacks pasture and any green vegetation. "I planted maize on three acres over a month ago and right now it has been infested by the armyworms when it just had eight leaves," Samuel Ambuche, a farmer in Bungoma, said Thursday.
The farmer said the pests had devastated his crops leaving only a skeletal that would not germinate despite his constant application of pesticides. "I planted just when the rains started. I had ploughed my land in January, bought fertilizer and seeds in readiness for planting. The rains came in early March. Though they were not plenty, my aim was to plant early so that I can maximize on the rains but now this has happened," he said. According to him, he has spent about 150 U.S. dollars on pesticide application since he started applying in vain. "Only a small section of my maize now remains. We reported the invasion to Ministry of Agriculture but we are yet to get concrete help. Each farmer is trying to eradicate them on their own but it is not possible if efforts are not coordinated."
The current outbreak in Kenya, according to agricultural experts, is linked to recent invasions on maize in Malawi, Zambia and South Africa, where the worms attacked crops on thousands of acres. The Ministry of Agriculture last month notified its county directors of agriculture of the outbreak, but efforts to begin widespread curbing of the pests are yet to start. The pests, according to the UN agency Food and Agriculture Organization, was first detected in Africa in Nigeria in January last year and has spread in Botswana, Congo, Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Swaziland, Togo and Uganda.
There are four kinds of armyworms namely African armyworm, Common armyworm, Fall armyworm and Lawn armyworm. The Fall armyworm is the one that has invaded Kenyan farms. "The disease is a huge threat to food security because Kenya relies on maize, which the armyworms are currently destroying. With each citizen eating 104kg of maize every year, demand for maize is huge but we will certainly not meet it this year due to the pests and ongoing drought," said Bernard Moina, an agricultural extension officer in Kitale, one of the affected areas.