To solve the future food needs in sub-Saharan Africa, entomologists must be a critical part of the puzzle. From Nigeria to Ethiopia, South Africa to Chad, African smallholder farmers often face severe crop losses from damaging bugs from locusts to cassava’s whiteflies, cowpea pod borers or maize and sorghum stem borers. According to the Center for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI), pests, (some emerging due to climate change or shifts in land use), reduce African crop harvests by 50%. Most smallholder farmers don’t have the ability to diagnose crop problems quickly and often have no means or knowledge to control these pests. With climate change and increased movement of goods and people, emerging pests will worsen an already serious problem.
Now, a foreign caterpillar from the Americas, the fall armyworm (FAW) Spodoptera frugiperda is quickly invading the continent, swallowing entire fields of maize, but also sorghum, millets and many other staple crops. There were already armyworms in Africa –worldwide – but the fall armyworm is particularly voracious and versatile, and spreads fast. Targeting over 80 crop species, the caterpillar eats day and night. It’s life cycle can be as short as 30 days and the adult moth is able to fly 100km a night. It is no surprise then that it has invaded over 30 African countries since it was first reported in Nigeria in early 2016. The pest poses a serious threat to the food and nutrition security of millions of farming households in sub-Saharan Africa. According to CABI, the FAW could potentially cause maize yield losses in a range from 8.3 to 20.6 million tons annually in Africa, worth between 2.5 and 6.2 billion dollars, in the absence of any means of control, in just 12 maize-producing countries. But FAW attacks concern also many other important food crops including sorghum and millets, where damages were reported for example in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Niger and Rwanda. So what could be the response to this pest problem that is here to stay? Read more