Panic as army worms invade Narok

Farmers in Narok County are staring at heavy losses running into millions of shillings after three forms of army worms invaded their farms in different locations.

Fall Army Worm, African Army worms and wheat Head Army Worms have invaded over 50, 000 hectares of maize, wheat and livestock pasture.

Narok County Chief Officer-In-Charge of Agriculture and Livestock, Christopher Nkukuu laments the pests were spreading at an alarming rate, and mainly feeding on peripheral foliage.

These worms are different from stalk borer. The stalk borer caterpillar bores into the stalk while these worms feed more on peripheral foliage and tend to burrow through the husk instead of feeding down the silks, he said.

He lamented that the pest is spreading rapidly and has a potential to cause one hundred percent loss in wide range of crops, which could result into national food insecurity, and loss of income.

The first occurrence of Fall Army Worm was reported at Angata Barikoi area in Trans Mara in April this year, we sent a technical team to carry out a survey on the type of worm and the acreage destroyed. Two weeks ago, over 20, 000 hectares of maize had been invaded by the worms, he said.

The Chief Officer said the County Government is working in collaboration with the National Government to outsource a registered pesticide to control Fall Armyworms as this is the first time the worms are invading the County.

Fall Armyworm moth is a migratory pest, native to North and South America. This pest occurs in large numbers and its caterpillars cause severe damage to more than 80 plant species, especially cereal crops, he said.

After feeding, the caterpillars leave behind large amount of moist sawdust-like substance near the whorl and upper leaves causing stunting and destruction of developing tassel thereby reducing grain quality and yield.

African Armyworm, he said is easier to control with the locally available pesticides as compared to Fall Armyworm.

We are in the process of undertaking study on these worms because we are currently relaying on publications from other countries because the pest was first reported in Kenya in March this year, he said.

Last week, Nkukuu said his officers discovered a new invasion of Wheat Head Armyworms at Ntulele area.

The Wheat Head Army worms were found on wheat plantations and pasture, this is the first occurrence of this kind to be reported in Narok County, he said.

He called on the farmers to plant early, adhere to regional planting calendar and avoid off- season planting.

Farmers should avoid planting new crop near infested plants and use only the recommended fertilizers and keep fields weed free to boost plant vigor, he said.

For effective control in maize, he said, spray at least three times starting two weeks after emergence. All farmers in a given locality should spray to avoid neglected farms, which become breeding grounds for the insect and a source of re-infection.

However, the chemicals have to be used appropriately at right environment conditions to minimize development of pest resistance.

A survey conducted in March 2017 by the Department of Agriculture in conjunction with Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) revealed the Fall Army Worm has quarantine status in Europe and its presence therefore has implications on international trade.

Fall Armyworm caterpillars are green, brown or black in colour depending on development stage. A mature caterpillar has a distinct white line between the eyes, which form an inverted ‘Y’ pattern on the face and four black spots.

The worms have been reported in 14 counties with Trans Nzoia, Bungoma, Kakamega, Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Kericho, Baringo, Nakuru and Busia being affected most.

Nkukuu said his officers are working with the farmers to help them in eradicating the worms.

Narok County Cereal Growers Association (CGA) Chairman, Lekina Kamento called on the Ministry of Agriculture to intervene fast through provision of subsidized pesticides to save the remaining crop.

If no intervention by the way of subsidizing the pesticides and providing technical assistance will not be forthcoming, the pest will wipe out the whole crop which has been doing well, he said.

He said farmers were expecting bumper harvests of up to 25 bags (90 kg) per acre, attributing it to the well-distributed rains in the highland part of the county.

He asked the government to deploy agricultural extension officers to advice farmers on good crop husbandry to boost production and aid in fighting the menace.

Ololulunga, Ntulele, Nkori- Nkori, Melelo, Katakala, Nkareta, Mulot, Sagamian, Sogoo, Nkaroni and Kilgoris are some of the areas of the County that are highly hit.

Last month, the government imported maize following shortage of the commodity in the country that led to hiking of the price of flour.

Source: Kenya News Agency