It is still only the beginning of the season up here in Northern region and the Fall Armyworm (FAW) has struck Ghana, north and south, bad. And it is not just Ghana. I feel like the northern regions should have been better prepared seeing as we now had a year of experience with this pest under our belts and more importantly, the south was already getting pummeled long before we planted maize up here. Alarm bells should have been ringing. An emergency plan designed months ago and set into action.
Instead, I am hearing from a PCV in Volta region how the destruction is being talked about on the radio and entire articles found in news papers, discussing the government putting together compensation packages for seriously impacted farmers. Along with sensitization, education and monitoring efforts is too little too late. I am not blaming the government. What this indicates is, possibly, how nobody thought it would be this bad.
USAID ADVANCE is a project that has, since last year, been tracking FAW. I do not know if they too knew it would be this bad, but at least they were acting on it. Their primary geographical focus area is the northern regions and my local radio station has been playing for weeks now an awareness advertisement by the aforementioned project, with phone numbers to call, advice on what to spray, etc. Also, I was listening to a local morning program where people can call in and voice concerns and complaints to the District Assembly. One farmer called in, panicked about FAW. The moderator was good, responding to his concerns but what I liked the most was that he kept bringing up FAW, long after the caller had hung up.
A couple weeks ago, I held a community wide meeting that was poorly attended. A shame because I had many important project updates for the community and wanted to talk about FAW. I had printed out excellent visuals, obtained from MEDA, showing the
life cycle of FAW, how to identify it, what chemicals could be used and other methods to reduce damage. I asked them to simply spread the news to everyone with the point that if your neighbor does nothing to control this pest, it will affect your field.
According to records, 112,812 acres have been affected. And I think it is safe to say that number climbs every day. Two days ago, I was in the house garden where the permagarden is and my counterpart is growing sweet potatoes and some maize next to it. I found small caterpillars on the leaves. I wondered how many more I just did not see – up to 2,000 eggs can be laid in three days. Yesterday, I went with this same counterpart to apply fertilizer to over an acre of maize he planted almost two weeks ago. He also sprayed four days ago. That is how widespread and vicious FAW is, attacking maize when still so young. I saw the damage caused and found one FAW at the large caterpillar stage. He will be spraying again in a couple days. One of his side businesses is supplying agrochemicals and yesterday afternoon, he traveled to Tamale, the regional capital, to buy more stock of pesticides as he already sold out.
I am no expert but I have been telling people to pre-emptively spray. That these chemicals are not a guarantee that they will have a good harvest but one thing for sure is if they do not spray, they will lose everything.
This thing has spread far and fast. The most affected by this will be the smallholder farmer. The one who depends on the few bags of maize he/she can get every year. The effects of this pest are far reaching. If the farmer does not get a good yield, they have nothing to eat or sell. Their annual income is severely reduced. Their ability to have decent meals every day is now more unlikely. How will they pay their children’s school fees? Will the wife have to travel south for kayayo work? FAW is more than just a pest.