Buhari legacy

Armyworms could threaten this year’s maize harvest- experts warn

… Poultry industry risks further instability

The armyworm infestation of several thousands of maize acreage cultivated during last year’s planting season could be repeated this year, as experts warn of government’s failure to provide adequate surveillance and necessary chemicals to combat the pests.
Another hit in maize production is bound to have adverse effects on the poultry industry which has been struggling for months following  shortages and high cost of feed, the bulk of which come from maize.
Nigeria is the world’s 14th largest producer of maize, with its output of 7 million metric tonnes meeting over 96% of local demand in 2016 (going by estimates from BMI Research).
“Last year, the government was looking (and idling) until  the army worm infestation became widespread,” said Olatunji Adenola, President, Maize Association of Nigeria.
This was corroborated by Emmanuel Ijewere, vice president, Nigeria Agri Business Group, and CEO, Best Foods Limited, who told BusinessDay that, “Last year, we knew that it came in through the Camerouns to Nigeria, and we wrote a letter to the government to warn them about it. We saw the army worm as a big challenge and wrote to the government for something to be done very quickly. Unfortunately it cost a lot of damage to Nigeria’s maize industry, even though the impact was minimised by the fact that during the past season, we had bumper harvests in maize, so the damage was not as extensive as it would have been.”
Ijewere sounded a note a warning for urgent action, saying that if something is not done quickly this year, they will take a greater rout, and the fact that the army worms move around in millions, make any infestation potential dangerous for maize production.
The army worms which invaded West Africa last year, have now found their way  through the continent, and are now ravaging farms in Southern Africa.
“If not controlled in the countries affected, it will have devastating effects, not only in those countries, but neighbouring countries too, because the spread capacity of this pest is very high,” said David Phiri, who co-ordinates the FAO’s operations in southern Africa, where maize is a staple food.
The ability of armyworms to reproduce quickly and in millions, underscores the threat to Nigeria’s maize production if adequate plans are not put in place to contain any possible outbreak.
“Based on the warnings we have provided, if we are able to deal with any eventual outbreak as quickly as possible, then the next line of action is for it to be handled scientifically. Our research institutions should be empowered to also contribute,” said Ijewere.
In the same vein, Adenola said “farmers may not be able to solve the problem themselves. Let the government provide the right chemicals so that farmers will not be duped; especially into buying the fake. Let them bring the right chemical into the country, and every farmer that needs it pays, perhaps through his association/cooperative.”
He added, “To empower the farmer (as government has been claiming) can only be achieved by making the right inputs available at the right time, not when the maize has been destroyed and then government starts bringing out chemicals.”
Reports since January have indicated that South Africa, the continent’s largest maize producer, is battling armyworms which have invaded neighbouring countries and devastated crops, and may have spread across its borders.
The fall armyworm, said to be native to the Americas, was first reported in West Africa a year ago, and has now spread to countries including Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi, ravaging fields of corn, just as the region tries to recover from its worst drought in more than 35 years.
In Nigeria, poultry farms are shutting down, owing to their inability to feed their birds. Any challenge to maize production this year, will see prices of poultry feed further skyrocket.
Onalo Akpa, director-general, Poultry Association of Nigeria (PAN), told BusinessDay, “A lot of farms are being closed down because so many people cannot afford to feed their birds.”
Michael Aderohunmu, CEO, M&K Agro also buttressed this when he said “A friend of mine recently told me that he is going to close down his poultry and concentrate on farming because the cost of feeding the birds is very high,”
Aderohunmu further said, “a major component of that is maize, so we need to bring more farmers together to cultivate maize.”
As experts now raise alarm over the threat of armyworms, there is a general notion that increasing maize cultivation may lead to more wastage in the event that the country witnesses another bout of armyworm infestation.
“An outbreak of armyworm therefore, has far-reaching implications across maize-dependent businesses. One notable effect of this in particular, would be the impact that a consequent surge in corn prices may have on poultry  farming, which is currently grappling with output losses from Avian Flu,” said analysts at CSL Limited, in a recent report to BusinessDay.