American “Army Worm” Hits Uganda

Ministry of Agriculture yesterday trumpeted a “severe” outbreak of a deadly caterpillar that attacks maize plants and other cereals in a number of districts in the country.

Minister Vincent Bamulangaki Sempijja announced the bad news yesterday in Kampala, this web that the Fall Army Worm has been confirmed in the districts of Kasese, tadalafil Kayunga and Bukedea.

The ministry in an investigation tour found that the pest which was first reported last year, had infested about 40% of the maize crops in the fields.

“The National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) has positively identified the pest as a moth commonly known as the Fall Army Worm (Spodoptera frugiperda),” announced minister Sempijja at a press conference.

The fall army worm is native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. How it arrived in Africa is not clear.

The minister suspects however that that it could have been brought in through importation of Agricultural commodities across continents.


The pest was first observed in Nigeria in January 2016, and is now reported in several other countries including Togo, Ghana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Kenya.

It is known to feed on more than 80 plant species, including cereals (maize, millet, sorghum, sugarcane, rice and wheat), legumes (cowpea, groundnuts and soybean), cotton  and many pasture grasses (Rhodes grass, Kikuyu grass, Lucerne and other pasture grasses) that are the source of cattle feed in the country.

The destructive stage of the pest is the caterpillar. It can be identified by its inverted Y mark on the front of the head and four large spots towards the end of the abdomen. The caterpillar feeds aggressively on most parts of the plant including the leaves, stems, maize cobs and tassels except the roots.

The symptoms of damage include leaf perforation, defoliation, perforated cobs and damaged grains. This feeding damage results in a reduction in both yield and grain quality.

The adult moths move in large swarms at night with each female laying up to 2000 eggs and the emerging caterpillars are aggressive feeders with the potential to destroy a hectare within 72 hours in its later stages.

Minister Sempijja says the fall army worm is particularly hard to control, as the moths are strong flyers, capable of covering 2000 km per year.

He added that the pest has been confirmed in over twenty (20) districts including; Kibaale, Kamwenge, Masindi, Nwoya, Mayuge, Kyenjojo, Mukono, Kamuli, Luwero, Rakai, Buliisa, Kabarole, Kumi, Serere Kibaale, Kiryandongo, Luuka, Bugiri and Iganga and continues to spread to other districts at a very high rate.

His ministry he says has so far confirmed damages on maize and sugarcane crops.

As an emergency intervention, farmers are being advised to use a pesticide combination of Lambda-cyhalothrin (106g/l) and Thiamethoxam (141g/l) (Striker 247 SC or Engeo K 247 SC) and  Profenofos 40% + cypermethrin 4% (Rockett 44EC) at a rate of 20-50mls in 15 – 20 litres of water as we explore more sustainable management measures. The dose depends on the stage of caterpillar development.

“Information, Education and Communication materials (IEC materials) on identification and management of the pest are being developed,” he added.

The minister expressed worry however that the presence of this pest poses an export risk for Uganda and by inference directly affecting foreign exchange earnings.

“While we are yet to establish the impact figures of the pest in Uganda, Zambia estimated a loss of 130,000 hectares of maize to the pest in one season. Zambia spent US$3,000,000 in an attempt to control the pest and Kenya has now set aside US$1,000,000 for anticipated control of the pest.”

Uganda produces close to four million metric tons of maize grain annually making it the third highest crop produced. Maize contributes to the livelihoods of over 3.6 million households (UBOS2014). Based on the estimated yield loss of 15%-75% elsewhere, the presence of the FAW in Uganda could translate to an annual loss of at least 450,000 metric tonnes of maize that is equivalent to US$192,857,000.

“The figures that we have are only reflective of maize however the pest affects more crops mentioned earlier thereby heightening the potential loss to the economy,” he warned.

The ministry has so far set aside Shs. 1billion which is now being used to control this pest.

The minister appealed to farmers Farmers, Extension Staff and the general public to promptly report any outbreaks to the District Agricultural Officers (DAOs), Department of Crop Protection and National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) for guidance on the interim measures of managing the pest.




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