Campaign highlights Armyworm invasion in Africa

Posted on Feb 23, 2017

Campaign highlights Armyworm invasion in Africa

Earlier this month, Matter PR led a global media campaign on new research by scientists at CABI which confirmed that a new invasive species of crop-destroying Armyworm is now spreading rapidly across Mainland Africa and could result in devastating loses to crops and farmers’ livelihoods.

The campaign raised awareness of the threat to agricultural trade and the need for urgent action to help farmers and researchers working in affected areas to accurately identify and work out the best strategies to control this new pest.

It resulted in over 350 pieces of media coverage around the World, reaching an audience well in excess of 12.9M people. It provoked widespread concern on social media with over 40,000 social shares and responses from key Government agencies including the UN and resulted in an emergency UN meeting being called in Harare to discuss the issue.

Amongst the first wave of media to cover the story was the BBC and Reuters News. BBC News covered the Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 12.30.58story extensively on BBC World and BBC Radio World Service including interviews with CABI expert Dr Janny Vos on BBC Newsday and Newshour.

Fall armyworm is native to North and South America and can devastate maize production, the staple food crop that is essential for food security in large areas of Africa. It destroys young plants, attacking their growing points and burrowing into the cobs.

CABI Chief Scientist, Dr. Matthew Cock said, “We are now able to confirm that the fall army worm is spreading very rapidly outside the Americas, and it can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within just a few years. It likely travelled to Africa as adults or egg masses on direct commercial flights and has since been spread within Africa by its own strong flight ability and carried as a contaminant on crop produce.”

An indigenous pest in the Americas, it has not previously been established outside the region. In the past year, it was found in parts of West Africa for the first time and now a CABI-led investigation has confirmed it to be established in Ghana. It can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within a few years.

Plant doctors working in CABI’s Plantwise plant clinics, which work to help farmers lose less of what they grow, have found evidence of two species of fall armyworm in Ghana for the first time. This has been confirmed by DNA analysis undertaken at CABI’s molecular laboratory in Egham, Surrey (UK). In Africa, researchers are working to understand how it got there, how it spreads, and how farmers can control it in an environmentally friendly way.

Known as the fall armyworm because it migrates into temperate North America in Autumn (fall), this pest has long been a problem throughout tropical America, damaging vital crops. It mostly affects maize (corn) but it has been recorded eating more than 100 different plant species, causing major damage to economically important cultivated grass crops such as maize, rice, sorghum and sugarcane as well as other crops including cabbage, beet, peanut, soybean, alfalfa, onion, cotton, pasture grasses, millet, tomato, potato and cotton.

Damage to maize crops was investigated at three different survey areas within Ghana and the caterpillars associated with the damage were photographed, collected, and sent to the CABI laboratory in Egham, UK for analysis. Once samples are received in the lab, a small portion of each caterpillar is removed for molecular testing. DNA is isolated from the cells, and a specific gene is amplified, sequenced, then compared against authenticated ‘barcode’ sequences for definitive identification.

Fall armyworm is native to North and South America and can devastate maize production, the staple food crop that is essential for food security in large areas of Africa. It destroys young plants, attacking their growing points and burrowing into the cobs.

P1040336-1

An indigenous pest in the Americas, it has not previously been established outside the region. In the past year, it was found in parts of West Africa for the first time and now a CABI-led investigation has confirmed it to be established in Ghana. It can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within a few years.

Plant doctors working in CABI’s Plantwise plant clinics, which work to help farmers lose less of what they grow, have found evidence of two species of fall armyworm in Ghana for the first time. This has been confirmed by DNA analysis undertaken at CABI’s molecular laboratory in Egham, Surrey (UK). In Africa, researchers are working to understand how it got there, how it spreads, and how farmers can control it in an environmentally friendly way.

 

Related Stories:

International biosciences centre hires Matter PR