By Geoffrey Kamadi

The first ever major study of the potential biological control of fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) has identified biopesticides (naturally occurring substances or organisms that kill pests) that have shown effectiveness against the pest.

In the paper, Assessement of potential biopesticide options for managing fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) in Africa, published today in the Journal of Applied Entomology, scientists identified 23 out of 50 biopesticide active ingredients registered in 30 study countries that show promise against the pest.

Study countries included 19 in Africa, where the fall armyworm is a new pest and 11 others whose range is native to the pest.

The fall armyworm was once found only in the Americas.  The first incident of the pest in Africa was reported in 2016 in West Africa.

The pest has since spread to other parts of the continent, decimating crop fields that have resulted not only in huge losses but have undermined food security.

The pest, which is the larval stage of the fall armyworm moth, can feed on 100 different species of plants, including maize, rice, sorghum, teff and sugarcane.

These crops are cultivated by small-scale farmers primarily for food and income. The pest is also known to attack peanuts, soybeans and cotton.

Biopesticides products are widely used in the Americas, because they are commercially available. However, only few of these products are registered for use in Africa.

This has left farmers to experiment with pesticides and other chemicals, which could present health and environmental hazards.

This new study therefore presents an opportunity to finding an effective, yet safe method of managing the fall armyworm, something which Dr. Melanie Bateman, the lead author of the study, acknowledges.

She cites the Framework for Partnership developed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, “which emphasises alternatives to pesticides – such as microbials and their extracts, botanicals, semiochemicals, inorganic biochemicals, predators and parasitoids,” she is quoted as stating.

Bateman, who is also the Integrated Crop Management Advisor at the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI), added that the identification of low-risk management for fall armyworm remains a high priority.

Following the study, scientists have come up with a number of recommendations. This includes short-term recommendations of finding ways of expediting the assessment for biopesticides registration, where they do not exist.

This is in addition to “reviewing and updating extension materials to reflect the availability of suitable biopesticides,” Says the paper.

Medium-term recommendations include subsidizing biopesticides by governments, something which Ghana is already doing. Otherwise, the paper suggests exploring forging partnerships between local product manufacturers and private sector companies, in situations where active ingredients are not locally available.

The study was funded by GIZ, a German development agency.