The fall armyworm that has ravaged crop productivity in Africa will lead to increased losses worth billions of dollars if not quickly tackled, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has warned.

And Agriculture Minister Michael Katambo has urged farmers to urgently adopt the latest technology to mitigate against crop losses because the pests are here to stay.

Speaking during the AfDB high-level regional partnership meeting to address the fall armyworm crisis that has ravaged the agricultural sector across the continent in the last couple of years, AfDB director for agro industry Dr Martin Fregene warned that the pests will lead to an increasing amount of crop losses worth billions of US dollars if not urgently addressed by governments across Africa.

“Fall armyworm has been shown to reduce maize yields by 20 per cent. But more importantly, it affects the quality of the grain; it has been shown to increase aflatoxin levels in the grains of maize. It has also been shown to make the maize seed crop no longer useful, and also, it compromises the quality of maize in the market. If fall army is not tackled, the losses runs into billions of dollars and it will increase,” Dr Fregene warned in his opening address to stakeholders at Lusaka’s Hotel Intercontinental, Friday.

“As we work to increase productivity, we notice that you have emerging threats like the fall armyworm. It is a developing threat, found two years ago. But today, it is found in every country on the continent except for Mauritius and Sao Tomé [and Principe], which are islands.”

While he acknowledged that African governments around the continent were aggressively tackling the scourge, Dr Fregene stressed that farmers can’t wait any longer for the latest technology to combat the crop-eating pests.

“The reason why we are here today is to build upon what has been done. I know that governments in southern Africa have responded vigorously to fall armyworm; they have instituted national taskforces to tackle the problem… We cannot wait another two or three years for these technologies to get to the farmers’ fields. The cost of waiting is just too high,” he observed.

He outlined the devastating effects of the fall armyworm on seed companies in Tanzania.

“You might think that, fall armyworm is not really affecting the lives of farmers, but I will tell you a story from Tanzania; a seed company owned by the government in Tanzania. One of the representatives is here with us, and he presented how the fall armyworm is affecting the production of seed in Tanzania; 50 per cent infestation in their fields and how it is reducing the ability of that seed company to deliver seeds to farmers,” Dr Fregene narrated.

“And this is just the beginning, just two years…so, imagine if we let this problem fester for another couple of years? We don’t want to think of the consequences, that’s why we have to vigorously respond to it.”

And speaking when he officially opened the workshop, Katambo warned stakeholders that the fall armyworm is here to stay.

“It is clear that the fall armyworm is here to stay as farmers are still reporting its presence, even under winter maize. Therefore, it is important for the country and region at large to take measures to fight the fall armyworm since it is a transboundary pest that requires regional partnerships if we are to effectively fight it,” Katambo noted.

“This ravaging pest has really devastated the lives and the living of our farmers; it is important to quickly learn the latest technologies, which are effective to eradicate this ravaging pest called the fall armyworm.”

He further bemoaned the impact the worms had on the entire Zambian agricultural landscape.

“By January, 2017, it had spread to all the ten provinces of Zambia. A total of 279,843 farmers, and a total area of 222,586 hectares of land were affected by the fall armyworm in the country,” recalled Katambo.