NAIVASHA, Kenya, June 15 (Xinhua) -- The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations on Thursday launched a project in Kenya's lakeside town of Naivasha to protect staple food crops from devastating losses caused by the African armyworm, a pest which can destroy up to 100 percent of staple foods if left uncontrolled.
The project, Emergency Support to Manage Outbreaks and Infestation by African Armyworm in Eastern Africa, aims to harness national capacities in eastern Africa against the incursion of the pest.
Xia Jingyuan, director of the Plant Production and Protection Division at the FAO, said the pest poses a serious threat to food insecurity in the subregion, necessitating the urgent intervention of the FAO and its partners to prevent major loss of crops, which are already under pressure of prolonged drought.
Xia said the pest is reproducing itself for up to 13 generations in a single year, with a huge potential for major outbreaks. "In 2022, the outbreaks were reported in many East African nations. Recognizing this challenge, FAO is employing its expertise to protect the livelihoods of smallholders through robust monitoring and management of the pest," he said in a statement.
The FAO said the project aims to harness national capacities in eastern Africa against the incursion of African armyworms. It extends support to six countries in the region -- Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda.
"By establishing 2,400 monitoring sites, with 400 sites in each country, the project provides training to over 1,350 people in monitoring, early warning, and effective management techniques for African armyworm," the FAO said.
Kello Harsama, principal secretary of the State Department for Crop Development at the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development of Kenya, noted the fact that Kenya had just come out from the worst desert locust invasion that threatened farmers' lives and livelihoods in more than 28 counties and was again facing the dangers of the African armyworm.
Harsama said Kenya has carried out surveillance on over 1.12 million hectares, of which about 296,000 hectares were found to be affected by African armyworms. "So far, over 173,000 hectares of land were protected through ground spraying. However, effective and lasting protection can be achieved through regional collaborative efforts," Harsama said.
The project focuses on engaging experts from National Plant Protection Units within the Ministries of Agriculture as the primary beneficiaries, while also providing in-country knowledge transfer training to national experts and community focal persons in villages. The project emphasizes the use of a Community-Based Armyworm Monitoring and Forecasting system, which was started in Tanzania in 2000, with subsequent rollouts in Ethiopia and Kenya.
The system has demonstrated promising results and was scaled up in high-risk villages in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania from 2012 to 2015.
Carla Mucavi, the FAO representative in Kenya, said the African armyworm is a transboundary pest that threatens food security and nutrition in the whole of the East Africa subregion.
Muvaci said the pest can cause serious damage to staple foods unless it is monitored and managed.
"No single country can manage this pest alone. We need to join hands to defeat this pest, so as to prevent major crop losses that endanger the livelihoods of the smallholder farmers. Thus, I call upon governments and partners to put on more resources to catalyze and enhance the fight against this worrisome pest," Mucavi said. ■