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Ethiopia intensifies efforts to battle the fall armyworm

In collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and other development partners, the Government of Ethiopia has intensified efforts to protect major maize growing areas from the ravage of the fall armyworm. The fall armyworm, which first arrived in Africa in 2016, was intercepted on a few hectares of irrigated maize fields in southern Ethiopia in the last week of February 2017. It has now covered about 52 962 hectares in 144 districts in three of the major maize-growing regional states – Gambella, Oromia and Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR).

Tazelekew Habtamu, a maize farmer in southern Ethiopia where the insect set foot for the first time in Ethiopia, observed unusual insect pest infestation on his maize farm in the first week of March 2017. He reported the case to a local agriculture extension worker, who facilitated immediate pesticide spraying. “At first, the fall armyworm infestation was huge,” said Tazelekew. “The pesticide spray killed most of the pests. I would have lost my maize plants if I did not use the pesticide. However, some remnants of the fall armyworm are still attacking my maize field.”

The fall armyworm is a migratory insect pest known to cause massive destruction of maize crops under warm and humid conditions in the Americans. In Ethiopia, maize fields planted in belg and meher seasons in the prevailing warm and moist weather conditions provide favorable environment for the insect to multiply massively and spread to more areas. “The weather conditions from March to September in maize growing areas provide fertile ground for the insect to mass multiply and spread easily,” said Zebdewos Salato, Director of the Plant Protection Directorate at the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Aided by wind front, the fall armyworm of a single generation can spread quickly as far as 500 km away from its point of emergence.

“We expect the infestation to spread to other regions and cover wider areas in the coming months,” he said. “Many farmers in the regions have already planted maize or will plant in June. As more areas plant maize  it is very likely that the pests will spread to more maize areas including in Afar, Amhara, Benishangul Gumz, Oromia and Tigray. We are working hard to make vulnerable regions aware of the need to prepare for possible fall armyworm infestation.”

“The insect is establishing itself and is expected to remain an economic pest for very long time to come hence we need to put in place a short and long term fall armyworm management and control plan,” said Bayeh Mulatu, National Integrated Pest Management Expert at FAO Ethiopia.

For the current season, pesticides have been recommended, as the infestation is massive. Farmers are being advised to handpick the insect when the infestations are very low or apply contact and systemic pesticides using knapsack sprayers when the infestation is significant to cause economic damage, he said.

Farmers are informed to undertake routine monitoring of their farms and exercise handpicking of larvae, which escape the pesticide. According to recent reports, about 24 000 hectares of maize fields have been sprayed with about 36 000 litres of pesticides, and about 12 600 hectares of land have been covered by handpicking the fall armyworm.

However, the control effort has its own challenge. The Government of Ethiopia allocated nearly USD 2 million to tackle the problem. “With this resource, we purchased pesticide and managed to cover only 44 percent of the total maize field so far infested by the fall armyworm,” Zebdewos said. “Taking into consideration the growing infestation of the insect in the wider regions and the below 50 percent infested are treated using pesticides, it would be a big challenge for the Ethiopian Government to address the problem fully. We have challenges with in carrying out effective fall armyworm monitoring, supply of safety outfits, working spraying equipment and other logistics.” According to Zebdewos, even if the control activities are progressing, the impacts of the pest infestation will negatively affect the production of maize in this year, as it takes time for the affected plants to recover.

The Africa wide meeting on the fall armyworm that was held in Nairobi, Kenya gave the responsibility to FAO to coordinate interventions to bring the fall armyworm problem under control. In addition to funding of USD 52 000, FAO supports the Government’s prevention efforts with expert advice and consultation, and facilitation of field assessments, surveillance and monitoring. In addition, in collaboration with the Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA) and other development partners, FAO is developing a project to derail the insect expansion and mass multiplication so that yield loss could be minimized significantly.

In Ethiopia, about nine million smallholder farmers grow maize on 2 million hectares of land, and 75 percent of the maize produced is consumed family as food. Dry stock is mainly used for animal feed and part as fuel and the rest left to decay and amend soil. Amadou Allahoury, FAO Representative in Ethiopia said, “Millions of Ethiopian farmers rely on maize crop as staple food. The livelihood of these smallholder farmers will be at stake if the threat of the pest is not foiled. As FAO, we will continue providing the needed support to the Government in its efforts to tackle the problem.”

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Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as Citrus greening, has been confirmed in Trinidad for the first time. The disease, which was detected on leaves from a lime tree in the north of the island, can cause devastating yield loss for Citrus growers and is regarded as one of the most important threats to global commercial and […]

via Citrus greening detected in Trinidad — The Plantwise Blog

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HLB-citrus greening disease confirmed in Alabama

HLB was found in leaf and insect samples from a residential property on Dauphin Island in Mobile County.

Cary Blake 1 | Jun 22, 2017

The feared citrus disease Huanglongbing (HLB) – a.k.a. citrus greening – has been confirmed in Alabama, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI).

HLB was found in leaf and insect samples from a residential property on Dauphin Island in Mobile County. Dauphin Island is a town located on a barrier island with the same name at the Gulf of Mexico.

 Federal and state officials confirmed the major citrus disease, caused by the bacterial pathogen Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus vectored by the Asian citrus psyllid pest.

The ADAI, USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection will conduct a delimiting survey to determine the extent the pathogen’s spread.

If the disease is limited to only a few trees, steps will be taken to eradicate the disease.

Meanwhile, ADAI says officials have begun the process to halt citrus plant movement from the area. Federal plant officials will seek to establish a citrus greening quarantine in Mobile County.

Alabama agriculture officials say the state intends to take action to establish a parallel quarantine. The dual action makes it possible for federal regulators to hold the quarantine only in Mobile County where the disease has been confirmed.

Florida, for decades the largest citrus-producing state for juice in the nation, was the first U.S. state where HLB was found (2005). Due to HLB-caused tree death and related factors, some estimates suggest that HLB has eliminated 75 percent of Florida’s citrus industry.

Nearly 40 HLB positive finds have been found in California, all in urban areas in residential areas with no finds in commercial citrus. Most California citrus is sold for the fresh market.

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Why a problem of plenty is hurting India’s farmers

By Soutik Biswas. Reblogged from BBC News.

Farmers are on the boil again in India. In western Maharashtra state, they have been on strike for a week in some seven districts now, spilling milk on the streets, shutting down markets, protesting on the roads and attacking vegetable trucks. In neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, curfew has been imposed after five farmers were killed in clashes with police on Tuesday. Last month, farmers in southern Telangana and Andhra Pradesh staged protests and burnt their red chilli crop.

The farmers are demanding waivers on farm loans and higher prices for their crops. For decades now, farming in India has been blighted by drought, small plot sizes, a depleting water table, declining productivity and lack of modernisation.

Half of its people work in farms, but farming contributes only 15% to India’s GDP. Put simply, farms employ a lot of people but produce too little. Crop failures trigger farm suicides with alarming frequency.

The present unrest is, however, rooted in a problem of plenty.

In Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the farmers are on the streets because a bumper harvest fuelled by a robust monsoon has led to a crop glut. Prices of onions, grapes, soya-bean, fenugreek and red chilli, for example, have nosedived.

In most places, the governments have been less than swift in paying the farmer more for the crops – the government sets prices for farming in India and procures crops from farmers to incentivise production and ensure income support.

So why has a bumper crop led to a crisis in farming? Some believe that the price crash is the result of India’s controversial withdrawal of high value banknotes – popularly called demonetisation – late last year.

Indian farmers

The ban, surprisingly, did not hurt planting as farmers “begged and borrowed” from their kin and social networks to pay for fertilisers, pesticides and labour, Harish Damodaran, rural affairs and agriculture editor at The Indian Express newspaper told me.

So more land was actually cropped, and bountiful rains led to a bumper crop. But traders, Mr Damodaran believes, possibly did not have enough cash to pick up the surplus crop.

“Although the chronic cash shortage has passed, there is still a liquidity problem. I have been talking to traders who say there’s not enough cash, which remains the main medium of credit in villages. I suspect the price crash has been caused by a lack of cash.”

‘Exaggerated fears’

A prominent trader in Lasangaon, Asia’s biggest onion market in Maharashtra, a state which accounts for a third of India’s annual production, told me that concerns over shortage of cash leading to crop price crashes were “exaggerated”.

“There has been a good crop for sure, but a lot of traders have picked up crop, paying cash, issuing cheques and using net banking. Some of the glut and wastage has been due to the ongoing strike, when trucks of vegetables have been attacked on the highways,” Manoj Kumar Jain said.

Still others believe the main reason for the ongoing crises actually rooted in India’s chronic failure of coping with surplus harvests because of lack of adequate food storage and processing capacity.

“If the rains are good, you end up with a glut of crops and prices crash. The glut only highlights the inefficiencies of the farming value chain and hits farmers,” Ashok Gulati, an agriculture specialist at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, told me.

Take onions, for example. The vegetable is 85% water and loses weight quickly.

A labourer spreads onions for sorting at a wholesale vegetable market in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh

India is one of the world’s biggest onion producers. Image: Reuters

In Lasangaon, traders buy the crop from farmers and store the onions on concrete in tarpaulin-covered sheds. If the weather stays right, 3-5% of the stored crop is wasted in storage. But if the mercury soars, more onions dry up, lose weight and 25-30% of the stored crop could be wasted.

In a modern cold storage, however, onions can be stored in wooden boxes at 4C. Crop wastage is less than 5%. Storage costs about a rupee (less than a US cent) for every kilogram of onion a month.

So the government needs to make sure – or even subsidise – to keep the vegetable affordable to consumers once it reaches the retail market.

“We need to make the supply storage chain so efficient that the customer, farmer and the storage owner are happy. Unfortunately India hasn’t been able to make that happen,” Dr Gulati said.

Poor storage

For one, India just doesn’t have enough cold storages. There are some 7,000 of them, mostly stocking potatoes in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Resultantly, fruits and vegetables perish very quickly. Unless India hoards food effectively, a bumper crop can easily spell doom for farmers.

Secondly, there’s not enough processing of food happening to ensure that crops don’t perish or go waste. Take onions, again. One way to dampen volatility in onion prices is to dehydrate the bulb and make these processed onions more widely available. Currently, less than 5% of India’s fruit and vegetables is processed.

Thirdly, farmers in India plant for new harvest looking back at crop prices in the previous year. If the crop prices were healthy, they sow more of the same, hoping for still better prices. If the rains are good, a crop glut can happen easily, and lead to extraordinary fall in prices. Farmers hold on to the crops for a while, and then begin distress sales.

Farmers sprinkle fertilizers on a paddy field on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, India, February 1, 2017

Half of its people work in farms, but farming contributes only 15% to India’s GDP. Image: Reuters

“You need to allow future prices through contract farming, not cropping based on last year’s prices,” says Dr Gulati.

Radical measures

Clearly, farming policies in India need a radical overhaul. Punjab, India’s “granary”, is a perfect example. At a time when India does not suffer food shortages, water-guzzling wheat and rice comprise 80% of its cropped area and deplete groundwater. Rising production of cereals has meant that government has been giving paltry rises to the farmers while buying paddy and wheat, eroding their profitability.

“They [the policies] are distorting the choices that farmers make – those who should be finding ways to grow vegetables, which grow more expensive every year, are instead growing wheat we no longer need,” says Mihir Sharma, author of Restart: The Last Chance for the Indian Economy.

But the best that the governments here do is to quickly raise crop buying prices and alleviate the farmers’ suffering. Faced with a crop glut at home, the newly appointed BJP government in Uttar Pradesh was smart enough to promptly raise the procurement price of potatoes – and announce a controversial farm loan waiver – and quell a simmering farmers’ revolt. The government in Madhya Pradesh, ruled by the same party, failed to act in time. Now it says it will pay more to buy off the surplus onions. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Read the full BBC article.


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Invasive alien plant control assessed for the Kruger National Park in South Africa

June 6, 2017

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-06-invasive-alien-kruger-national-south.html#jCp

Sunset Dam, Kruger National Park, South Africa, is heavily infested with water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes). The population was effectively eliminated by a combination of biological and chemical control (right). Credit: Brian W. van Wilgen

Along with urban and agricultural encroachment and pollution mitigation, managing invasive alien species is a key intervention needed to protect biodiversity. Unfortunately, on a global scale there are not enough funds to meet the requirements for effective conservation everywhere, which means that scarce funds need to be allocated where they can be used most efficiently.

In order to find out whether the historical measures undertaken at the Kruger National Park in South Africa have been effective and optimised, researchers led by Prof. Brian W. van Wilgen of Stellenbosch University assessed the invasive alien plant control operations in the protected area over several decades. Their findings and recommendations are published in the open access journal Neobiota.

While the first invasive alien plants in the national park, which stretches over two million hectares, were recorded back in 1937, it was not until the mid-1950s that attempts at controlling them began. By the end of the century, the invasive alien plant control program had expanded substantially.

However, the scientists found out that despite several invasive alien species having been effectively managed, the overall control effort was characterised by several shortcomings, including inadequate goal-setting and planning, the lack of a sound basis on which to apportion funds, and the absence of any monitoring of control effectiveness.


Lantana camara along the Sabie River in the Kruger National Park have required intensive mechanical and chemical control to clear. Credit: Brian W. van Wilgen” 

Dense invasions of the West Indian Lantana (Lantana camara) along the Sabie River in the Kruger National Park have required intensive mechanical and chemical control to clear. Credit: Brian W. van Wilgen

Furthermore, the researchers report that over one third (40%) of the funding has been spent on species of lower concern. Some of these funds have been allocated so that additional employment could be created onsite, or because of a lack of clear evidence about the impact of certain species. As a result of their observations, the team concludes three major strategies when navigating invasive alien species control operations.

Firstly, a thorough assessment of the impact of individual species needs to be carried out prior to allocating substantial funds. On the other hand, in case of a new invasion, management needs to be undertaken immediately before any further spread of the population and the subsequent rise in control costs. Monitoring and assessments have to be performed regularly in order to identify any new threats that could potentially be in need of prioritisation over others.


Opuntia stricta in the Kruger National Park, South Africa have been effectively reduced to low numbers with biological control (right). Credit: Brian W. van Wilgen”

Secondly, the scientists suggest that the criteria used to assign priorities to invasive alien species should be formally documented, so that management can focus on defensible priorities. They propose using a framework employing mechanisms of assessments used in the International Union for Conservation of Nature‘s Global Invasive Species Database.

The authors also point out that re-allocating current funds to species of greater concern is needed for that cannot be managed via less expensive solutions such as biological control. Taking care of alien plant populations living outside of the park, but in close proximity, is also crucial for the prevention of re-invasions of already cleared areas.

Explore further: Denial of invasive species threat worries scientists

More information: Brian W. van Wilgen et al, An assessment of the evolution, costs and effectiveness of alien plant control operations in Kruger National Park, South Africa, NeoBiota (2017). DOI: 10.3897/neobiota.35.12391

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-06-invasive-alien-kruger-national-south.html#jCp



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