The fall army worm was first detected around the Krobo area last year. It was initially thought of as stem borer by farmers and extension officers. Having failed in their attempt at controlling it with known stem borer pesticides, it dawned on them that there was more to it. By September of the same year, only the Western region was spared out of the ten regions of Ghana.
Unfortunately, the Western region has also given in to the Fall Army Worm attack by March this year. It must be said, however, that, these initial attacks were somewhat isolated regardless of the presence in all the regions. Government in its quest to curb the ravaging effects of worms has budgeted 16 million Ghana cedis for the purchase of pesticides and awareness creation.
Indeed, the Minister for Food and Agriculture at a news conference in May said eight million will be used for awareness creation while the other half will go into the purchase of pesticides. Several months after this intervention, the annihilating effect of the worms has however assumed catastrophic levels. Current figures suggest that more than 112 thousand hectares of farmlands have been infested while 14 thousand farms are in complete ruin.
As a result, the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana, through its Programme Officer, Charles Nyaaba has asked that government to declare a state of emergency relative to the invasion. Information available suggests that farmers are resorting to crude and rudimentary ways of fighting the worms.
Reports are that, farmers in the Tumu area of the Upper West region for instance, are using washing powder mixed with pepper to deal with the canker. This, according to the farmers has led to the curtailment the havoc caused by the invading worms. While this may be effective in dealing with the problem, there are dire food safety consequences.
Detergents are known to contain heavy metals; Cadmium, Zinc and Copper. These metals are known carcinogens. The question that arises therefore is whether or not, we are not creating problems out of solving another? Ghana is not the first nor the only country to have witnessed the fall army worm invasion.
South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, Namibia, Uganda, Zambia and many others have not been spared the devastating effect of the worms. Since this menace has huge food security implications, governments in most of these countries are panicking, rightly so, and have embarked on aggressive control measures, particularly, distribution of pesticides.
These pesticides kill the larvae through contact or may penetrate the plant tissue and later poison the larvae that feed on it. Uganda and South Africa have particularly been singled out for their aggression in distributing pesticides to deal with the scourge.
In the specific case of South Africa, there has been an emergency registration of all agricultural chemicals to ensure that farmers only apply recommended pesticides.
Agricultural extension officers have also been trained to monitor the strict adherence to label instructions by farmers. Additionally, a Fall Army Worm action group made up of researchers, seed producers and distributors, industry players has been formed.
The group’s responsibility is to provide technically correct information to stakeholders and also evaluate progress. South Africa, in addition to all these, has also embarked on the importation of pheromone traps to determine the exact extent of spread and the specific strain of the worm that is being dealt with.
Although it is understandable that the fastest way of dealing with this debacle is the use of pesticides, one should be deeply concerned about the continued and unregulated application. If the credits of pesticides include enhanced economic potential in terms of increased production of food and fibre, and amelioration of vector-borne diseases, then their debits have resulted in serious health implications to human and the environment.
Studies are replete with the effects of pesticides on the environment and human health. These chemicals could be directly ingested by children through feasting on soil, they could also be taken up by plants and eventually eaten by humans. Pesticides may also pollute water bodies in addition to their recalcitrant nature in the soil.
According to the Center for Agricultural and Biosciences International, conservative estimates of the loss to be caused by the worm on maize fields in the coming years in Africa stands at three billion dolars.
For Ghana to effectively tackle the dreaded worm, in order to forestall any devastating economic hardship, particularly on smallholder farmers, there is the need to adopt a multi-prong approach that is quick and well-coordinated. There must be massive and far-reaching awareness campaign, stakeholder consultation and institutional collaborations.
BY JUSTICE KOFI AFENU, A PhD. CANDIDATE, SOIL SCIENCE DEPARTMENT, UNIVERSITY OF GHANA, LEGON