Notes to broadcasters
Maize farmers across sub-Saharan Africa are trying various methods to keep Fall armyworm (FAW) and other pests from damaging their crops. FAW is a migratory pest with a preference for eating maize. Since it was first reported in Africa in 2016, it has caused significant crop damage in more than 40 African countries, and experts say it is here to stay.
In Ethiopia, 55 million people—more than half the population—depend on maize for food and income. In rural areas, people get almost one-fifth of their calories from maize.
Farmers are handpicking the caterpillars off their maize, making insecticides out of local plants, and doing everything they can to keep their maize crops healthy to better resist FAW damage.
Ethiopian farmers planted maize this rainy season, which stretches from June to September. We interviewed farmers in Ethiopia’s Gojjam area, about 400 kilometres from the capital, Addis Ababa.
After a difficult time last year, farmers are now monitoring for Fall armyworm starting with the early stages of the crop, and a woman farmer in this script says she is looking forward to a good yield as a result of her continuous monitoring. An agricultural expert says that farmers in the Mankusa district know how to identify Fall armyworm and have been actively monitoring their farmlands to keep their plants safe from the pest.
This script is based on actual interviews. You could use it as inspiration to research and write a script on a similar topic in your area. Or you might choose to produce this script on your station, using voice actors to represent the speakers. If so, please make sure to tell your audience at the beginning of the program that the voices are those of actors, not the original people involved in the interviews.
You could also use this script as research material or as inspiration for creating your own programming on the benefits of monitoring fields for crop pests and pest damage. Talk to farmers, agricultural officers, and other experts. You might ask them:
• What are the major crop pests in this area?
• What are the best ways to monitor for these pests and the damage they cause?
• What actions should farmers take depending on what they find in their fields?
• What challenges do farmers face conducting this kind of monitoring, and how can they best address these challenges?
Apart from speaking directly to farmers and other experts, you could use these questions as the basis for a phone-in or text-in program.
The estimated running time for this item, with signature tune, intro, and extro, is 15-20 minutes.
The easiest way to monitor is to randomly select plants from different parts of the field. I randomly check three or four plants in the centre, in the right side and the left, as well as the front and back.
The other sign is that you see a small, powder-like substance that is whitish in colour. Those are the eggs. You have to destroy the eggs before they grow.
If there is a hole in the stem or the whorl with light brown powder around it, it means the pest is inside the plant. In this case, I inspect other plants near it, looking closely for eggs which could have been laid by the Fall armyworm.
We have learned a lot about the appearance of the caterpillar or larva, which is the stage of the Fall armyworm that causes the damage. It has a distinctive look, with an upside down “Y” shape on its forehead and four dark or dark brown dots on the tip of its back, forming a square.
The eggs look like powder and I rub them off the leaf to stop them from growing into the caterpillars that destroyed plants last year. I monitor my farmland every day or every other day to see if there are eggs. I am happy with how my plantation looks. It’s very good, and it gives me hope that I will have a good yield.
At first, most farmers thought Fall armyworm was a common pest; they thought it was a different caterpillar. But the experts showed us pictures and we physically saw some caterpillars and eggs. It was a big issue last year. This year, we can identify the pest on our own.
Last year we saw the threat. Fall armyworm destroyed our crops. At that time, we were not very cautious and did not monitor as much. The pest invaded our plants within a short time. Some farmers used chemicals to save the plants. Last year was a big lesson. It taught us to increase the frequency of our inspection. That’s why I do the inspection every day.
I can show you around the fields. The farmers tell us if they think their farm is at risk of being invaded by Fall armyworm. We go and check. But nothing threatening has happened so far.
From what I’ve seen, I believe the farmers are very active in monitoring if their crops are safe from the pest. They listen in groups to a radio program that airs twice a week. So they are aware of how to identify a plant that is affected either by the egg or the caterpillar. We advise them to kill the caterpillar, but we have chemicals ready in case there are too many pests for traditional methods like handpicking, pouring cow’s urine on the plant, planting weeds that attract the pest, and repeated ploughing.
They should remove the pest from the plant by handpicking and killing it. They can pour cow’s urine into the hole to kill the caterpillar if it is in the stem or the ear. They can destroy the white eggs on the leaves by handpicking and crushing them with their fingers.
If more than two out of the ten plants is infested, they should report to agricultural experts.
Also, if farmers monitor their fields two or three times in one day and find that more than 20 percent of their maize plants are infested with Fall armyworm, we advise them to use chemicals.
After applying fertilizer, it’s time to start inspecting the fields. If there is any trace of Fall armyworm, we make a note of the field and categorize it as extremely affected or slightly affected. If the field is affected a lot, we use a quadrant, which is a one-metre square frame that helps decide whether we should use chemicals or handle it by traditional methods.
When the farmers take preventive measures at the earliest stage of plant growth, the pest can be managed.
Preventive measures might include pouring cow’s urine on the plant, separating small plants with less than five leaves with a canal to stop the caterpillars from spreading from one plant to another, planting desmodium to repel the pest, destroying eggs, and handpicking caterpillars. But if early control does not happen, the pest could spread to other fields and damage more crops.
They also know how fast the pest can damage their fields and how dangerous it could be to their yields. A radio program is aired twice a week and listener groups tune in to get the latest information. The farmers also share stories during social occasions. The radio program is very important to reinforce their knowledge and to bring the issue of Fall armyworm to the farmers’ attention.
So, seeing farmers who can identify the caterpillar or the eggs is very promising. I personally think their crops are safe this year. This can be attributed to the hard work of governmental and non-governmental organizations in creating awareness about the Fall armyworm in different maize-producing areas across Ethiopia.
We also appreciate Mr. Temesgen for his clear explanation. As you just heard from him, the habit of timely monitoring developed by Ethiopian farmers is saving their maize from being destroyed by the Fall armyworm. As the saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure.” When farmers monitor their fields, they reduce the risk of losing crops to the pest.
Contributed by: Yemman Haileslasie Sahle, Acting Program Manager, 105.3 Afro FM, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Reviewed by: Dr. Belay Habtegebriel, Plant Protection Researcher, Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, Crop Research Directorate, Director of Plant Protection Research Department, Ambo Plant Protection Research Center, Ambo, Ethiopia.
This work was created with the support of the USAID Feed the Future Ethiopia Value Chain Activity as part of the project, “ICT-enabled Radio Programming on Fall Armyworm (FAWET).”
Mrs. Aynadis Tilahun
Mr. Dereje Birku
Mr. Melkam Abebe
Mr. Melkyalew Fanta
Mr. Temesgen Mihret
All interviews conducted on September 3, 2018.