The fall armyworm infestation has dealt a blow to Uganda’s food security by wiping out 12 per cent of the produce in the last crop season.
The worm is known to feed on more than 80 plant species including maize, millet, sorghum, rice and wheat, as well as legumes, cotton and pasture grass varieties like rhodes grass, Kikuyu grass, lucerne and others that are used as cattle feed in the country.
While Uganda produces close to four million tonnes of maize annually, Agriculture Minister Vincent Sempijja said that the impact of the armyworm infestation could be responsible for the loss of at least 450,000 tonnes of maize or $192.8 million worth of maize exports.
“The figures that we have are only reflective of maize. However the pest affects more crops thereby heightening the potential loss to the economy,” said Mr Sempijja.
Uganda Bureau of Statistics data shows that maize contributes to the livelihoods of over 3.6 million households in the country, and is a staple for over 300 million people on the continent.
First reported in Nigeria in January 2016, the fall armyworm has since spread to Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Togo, and Ghana.
The worm infestation could not have come at a worst time. Most of the affected countries were still grappling with the effects of the 2016 drought which led to widespread food shortages and starvation.
According to Food and Agriculture Organisation, close to 18 million people in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and South Sudan are severely food insecure following consecutive depressed rainfall leading to crop failure, widespread pasture and water shortages, reduced opportunities for rural employment, increasing livestock deaths and rising food prices.
In Kenya, the government set aside $1 million to control and eradicate the pest.
Uganda, which recorded a worm invasion in half of the country, will spend Ush4.5 billion ($1.2 million) to control the pest.
The money was released through a supplementary request by the ministry of agriculture in July and is being spent to procure pesticides and for mass sensitisation programme for farmers.
“We have already procured pesticides to manage the pests. We shall involve massive spraying and all district agriculture officers have been involved,” said the director of crop resources at the ministry of agriculture, Opolot Okasaai.
Mr Okasaai said that the country lost between 10-12 per cent of its produce in the March-July crop season.
“We hope not to lose as much in this crop season because we have been sensitising farmers and the districts agriculture officers have been trained on how to manage the worms,” he said.