Research organisations based in Kenya are fast-tracking a joint deal to introduce new technologies that would produce maize varieties that are tolerant to the spread of the Fall Army Worm (FAW).
Leveraging the knowledge of the Mexico-based International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CiMMYT), scientists argue that the initiatives will boost food security in Kenya and African countries.
CiMMYT director Prassana Boddupalli said a number of research firms are working on the programme, dubbed Plant Health Innovation Platform (PHIP) that seeks to use integrated pest management of FAW using various technologies.
The research institutions have partnered with the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), which has provided farms. An example is the Kiboko Centre, which is being used for the trial. Also, farmers are being sensitised on the latest knowledge.
At the Kiboko KALRO centre, the researchers recently inducted 80 farmers drawn from various counties on the technologies under test.
“We have a number of technologies currently under trial, for example, Push-Pull developed by ICIPE. We are assessing their practicality and other components like cost before making a conclusion by February 2023,” said Boddupalli.
Once approved, Boddupalli explained, the same will be shared with local organisations and agriculture extension units to commercialise them. “This will reduce the use of pesticides that have been blamed for other effects, for example, the emergence of diseases that are disastrous to humans, and which kill important insects like bees, affecting food production”, he added.
In April this year, the worms invaded farms that had been cultivated with maize, sorghum, beans, finger millet and other crops in Kakamega, Homa Bay, Kericho, Busia and Bungoma. The pests were further reported elsewhere and mainly in the grain basket zone. Other research organisations enlisted in the programme include the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), Corteva, Inc. and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE). The technologies, he added, are being tried on hybrid and improved maize varieties.
The maize varieties have been developed from Mexico germplasm, or Cuban. They are currently under national performance trial by the Kenya Plants Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS),” he said.
KALRO lead agricultural Entomologist Paddy Likhayo said since the outbreak of fall worms in 2016, maize yields have dropped by between 30–50 per cent further aggravating food insecurity in the country.
The head of the Technology Transfer Unit at (ICIPE), Saliou Niassy, said they also recommended use of prey insects to control the spread of the army worms.