Biopesticides Halt the Fall Armyworm in South Sudan
CABI has briefed the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on a successful project to deploy a safe-to-use and environmentally friendly biopesticide in the fight against the fall armyworm (FAW) pest in South Sudan.
Dr Ivan Rwomushana, senior scientist of Invasive Species Management based at CABI’s centre in Nairobi, Kenya, told the FAO and more than 150 scientists how 500 smallholder farmers have already seen 63% yield increases — worth $609/ha — from using Fawligen, a product called based on a baculovirus.
The technical webinar, entitled ‘Pesticide and Biopesticide in Fall armyworm Control: Protecting Health of Plants, People and the Planet,’ heard how smallholder farmers — instead of deploying synthetic pesticides that can pose serious risks to human health as well as natural enemies and pollinators — were encouraged to use more biopesticides as part of their Integrated Crop Management (IPM) plans.
The project — a collaboration between CIMMYT, USAID, the FAO, and AgBiTech, run in partnership with the South Sudan Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security (MAFS) and the Star Trust Organization (STO) — is seeking more funding to extend the benefit to an extra 600 smallholders who are keen to protect their crops from FAW, which can reduce losses of between 20-55%, as well as their general livelihoods and local, regional, and national food security.
Drawing from experience gained from testing Fawligen in Kenya, Dr. Rwomushana told the webinar how CABI designed the protocol for the demonstration of the product and built upon its experience in community action programs to run the pilot in South Sudan. He also advised that CABI provided local technical training and support to the farmers as part of the first pilot study.
In the first phase of the project, the farmers, in the Yambio, Bor and Juba regions, were clustered into 10-20 groups of 50 farmers. Each cluster identified a lead farmer who was trained to support other farmers and use his, or her, own farm as a learning / demo site where they could follow a standard protocol and use available tools.
Crop yield data collected at the end of the growing season from three of the four sites, representing a total of 315 feddans in Bor, Juba, and Yambio, demonstrated that the application of Fawligen resulted in a 63% yield gain on average, or 0.81t/ha, when compared to untreated maize fields. This was equivalent to $609/ha, which was estimated to cover the $72/ha cost for six sprays of Fawligen.
Dr. Rwomushana said, “Pesticides are currently the main method for managing FAW in Africa. Their extensive use is attributed to ease of access and the widespread belief that they provide better control than other management methods. However, given the high number of sprays and highly hazardous products being deployed (some banned internationally), they can pose serious risks including both acute and chronic human health burdens, effects on natural enemies, and pollinators.
“Biopesticides can, however, be a highly effective alternative to FAW management as they are generally more specific than most pesticides and do not pose the same health risk to spray operators and the environment. When used in conjunction with good crop management, they can help to keep FAW levels under control, reducing the need to apply other pesticides.”
Dr. Rwomushana revealed that a survey carried out at the end of the first pilot with farmers showed that 63.2% felt the Fawligen treatment had been very successful, and 95% were willing to pay for Fawligen if it was available at an agrodealer near to them (at a price comparable to a synthetic insecticide).
Dr. Rwomushana added, “While biopesticides are increasingly used against FAW outside the continent, very few products are registered for use in Africa. Therefore, if suitable products were available, they would offer safer alternatives to chemicals.
“It is hoped that if a second phase of the project is funded, CABI and partners could apply the lessons learned during the first phase and expand the biopesticide reach to additional farmers, and to further refine an integrated package of technologies to manage FAW as well as other maize crop pests.”
CABI seeks to work with partners to have such lower-risk products also registered in South Sudan, under the framework of the East African Community (EAC) harmonized guidelines for the registration of biopesticides and bio control agents for plant protection, that were adopted in September 2019. CABI was also involved in the harmonization process for the formulation of these guidelines.
Main photo: Pilot roll-out of biopesticide, Fawligen, in South Sudan. Partnership project between CABI and AgBiTech, CIMMYT, FAO, USAID and the South Sudan Ministry of Agriculture (Credit: CABI).
Find out more about CABI’s work in partnership to pilot biopesticides to manage fall armyworm in South Sudan from the project page.