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Farmers expect bumper harvest as TAAT Maize technologies tackle Fall Armyworm

Three years ago, when the first case of Fall Army worm (FAW) was reported in Africa, there was panic among farmers across Africa.

Farmers watched in disbelief as the destructive caterpillars native to the Americas, caused havoc as they fed on their maize crops. African farmers lost between 50-100% of their maize yields, which impacted on their social and economic well-being.

Numerous efforts have been rendered fruitless as the voracious pests continue to thrive in farmers’ fields in Sub Saharan Africa (SSA).

Mr. Basirio Mumbi, a farmer in Mpongwe District, Zambia, stated that since the emergence of the FAW pests in Zambia in 2016/2017, he has had no effective control mechanism as the pests increase in population very quickly.

‘It is very expensive to depend on pesticides alone,’ another farmer in Masaiti District echoed during a separate occasion. Researchers have worked tirelessly and availed technologies to combat the pests, but a major challenge is the delivery of these technologies to farmers.

Deploying the appropriate technology

It is with this effort that the Maize Compact of Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) in collaboration with the Fall Armyworm Compact accessed and deployed over 36,000 litres of Fortenza Duo (FD) seed treatment to seed companies, where 17,440 litres were utilized to treat over 3,007 tons of 40 climate smart maize varieties in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

These seeds were deployed to over 300,000 farmers in these countries.

Funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB), TAAT’s main objective is to improve the business of agriculture across Africa by raising agricultural productivity, mitigating risks and promoting diversification and processing in 18 agricultural value chains within eight Priority Intervention Areas (PIA).

The programme increases agricultural productivity through the deployment of proven and high-performance agricultural technologies at scale along selected value chains including maize.

The TAAT Maize Compact hence made an initiative to follow up with sample farmers who received the FD treated seeds in Zambia and Zimbabwe to ascertain the performance of FD treated seeds in their fields.

Using statistically acceptable parameters, the TAAT Maize team assessed the fields of farmers with Fortenza Duo treated seeds and those with non-FD treated seeds based on the Davis Scale, specifically focusing on FAW damage, number of plants with infested whorls, number of plants with fresh window panes and the number of FAW larvae in whorls.

Graph showing the D-scale units on Fortenza and non-fortenza fields

Better maize fields

Results from the FD monitoring missions indicate that FD treated fields had insignificant to no FAW damaged foliar (Davis Scale 1 – Fig. 1), fewer number of FAW larvae, lower number of plants with fresh window panes and infected whorls, and generally good crop stand as compared to the non-FD treated.

Basirio Mumbi attests that “my fields (FD treated seeds) are better that others which have non-Fortenza Duo seed’. He however urged the government and relevant seed stakeholders to ensure sustainable availability of the seed treatment, to ensure more farmers benefit, for bumper harvests.

 Enhancing maize production systems

The first 4 weeks of maize seedling are critical as they determine the eventual grain yields expected by a farmer. The FD treated maize seed is protected up to 4 weeks after germination, hence better chances of getting higher yields, with proper farm management.

Harvest is due in end May 2019, and the indicative parameters including good crop stand, ear formation and grain size show that the over 300,000 farmers who planted FD treated seed will get increased yields.

It is anticipated that the farmers will be able to sell the surplus production, and keep the rest for food, hence, beginning the journey of transforming their maize production systems.

Towards a sustainable private sector-led spraying service 

FAW have contributed to huge losses in maize production among smallholder farmers in Sub Saharan Africa.  Research and farmers indigenous knowledge have demonstrated that for effective control of the damages caused by the FAW, adoption of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is key.

It is against this background that the TAAT Maize Compact, with facilitation from the African Development Bank in collaboration with Corteva Agriscience a member of Crop life International Association, deployed “delegate” insecticide to be used in the control of FAW after the 4 weeks of FD treatment.

Ideally, only 2 sprays of delegate are needed after the fourth week to control for FAW infestation up to harvest. However in highly infested areas the number of sprays can be increased to 3.

The Maize compact has tapped into the Crop life existing platform which exists in over 80 countries, to enhance training farmers and agricultural workers in the responsible and effective use of crop protection products.

The Compact will enhance its work with youth groups affiliated to the National Union of Farmers in Zambia, to expand coverage and reach of farmers with this toolkit.

The TAAT maize compact in partnership with Corteva Agriscience recruited four youths, who were trained in provision of spraying and stewardship services among maize farms in Zambia.

With support from the agricultural officers, the youths were able to spray the maize fields twice for the November 2018 season in 2 districts of Zambia, namely, Chongwe & Mpongwe, after the 4 weeks of FD had elapsed (Fig. 2).

Less FAW infestation

Currently, harvest is expected in May 2019, but initial presentation of the plants illustrated that fields with Fortenza + delegate had much less infestation of FAW than fortenza + non-delegate fields. Farmers were very receptive of this idea and efforts, and requested this service be made available to help more.

The advantage of working with private sector Crop Life program ensures access to select quality products, stewardship package from the partner companies and training, monitoring and registration of the participating youths.

The Project will further connect the trained youth SSPs with Agrovet outlets and farmer groups in the maize value chain.

Public-Private Partnerships to drive technology adoption

Beyond effectively helping smallholder farmers to control FAW damage on their maize plants, the initiative also exposed youths to a

TAAT Maize Affiliated Stewardship Service Provider (SSP)’ sprays farm with Fortenza Duo Treated seed after 4 weeks of germination in Mpongwe, Zambia. The crops had good stand, and had a score of 1 on Davis Scale, indicating little or no FAW damage. PHOTO/AATF

business model that they could tap into and be involved in the maize value chain to improve their livelihoods while transforming farming in their communities.

With numerous technologies on the shelf for small-scale farmers in Africa amidst lack of sustainable access to these technologies, efforts to facilitate linkages and ensuring technology transfer with the private sector have become necessary in order to ensure that farmers adopt and use these technologies correctly and consistently.

Government buy-in and support is important for any major progresses to be made. Hence, TAAT Maize compact is working with National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) and National Commodity associations to ensure sustainable implementation of activities.

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