It was a sad day when Ali Abdoul from Al-Buniyah, Yemen turned the leaf of his sorghum crop and saw a worm. This loathed pest is not just any worm, it is the so-called Fall armyworm that attacks many crops, with a clear preference for maize, and ruins livelihoods in a growing number of countries worldwide.
This pest made its way to the Taiz Governorate in July 2018, adding additional misery to Yemeni farmers, who were already grappling with a litany of challenges.
“For us farmers, pests are a menace as they devour crops…. In Yemen, pesticides are now very costly. We sometimes have to sell some crops from the previous harvest to get money to buy pesticides and save the current crop,” said Ali.
Many other farmers in Yemen share Ali’s sentiments. About 70 per cent of Yemenis live in rural areas and depend heavily on agriculture as a critical source of food and income. The eight-year conflict in the country has worsened the situation and the prices of farming inputs have shot up.
In addition to rising input costs, farmers have faced a shortage of critical agricultural necessities such as seeds and fertilizer, a sharp increase in the price of fuel and unpredictable weather patterns.
And now they had Fall armyworm.
Ali describes how farmers were desperate to manage the new pest and tried different control methods without success. Home mixtures weren’t effective, and chemical pesticides caused harm to the environment and agricultural soils.
It was at this time when they were still struggling with the new pest that Ali, together with other farmers, started attending farmer field schools (FFS) organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
“Two agricultural officers from FAO came and taught us to concoct natural insecticides using the mraemrah tree, garlic and hot pepper. The training we got through the farmer field school included how to crush, grind and filter the impurities and then spray the mixture on the crops,” said Ali.
The mraemrah tree, also known as Melia azedarach, chinaberry tree or bead tree, is commonly found in Yemen. It produces chemicals that can serve as a natural insecticide, hampering the growth and development of the Fall armyworm. Not only is the tree available locally, but the biopesticide can be prepared directly in villages and in small quantities.
This pest control method was a traditional practice, but they had never tried it on the Fall armyworm. Ali and his fellow farmers were astounded by the results.
“Using biopesticides extracted from mraemrah was something new to us. After spraying, we found that the results were excellent. We were impressed, and we resolved that going forward, we will continue using the pesticide extracted from the mraemrah tree to manage Fall armyworm,” said Ali.
Ali added that the farmers realized that using the mixture was much cheaper than using chemicals and that it had no environmental impact.
“This biopesticide is helping us in a huge way. We were also taught that this type of pesticide is not harmful to human and animal health,” added Ali.
These biopesticides are not only safer for human health and the environment, they are also safer for beneficial insects like bees and other pollinators.
Through the FFS, FAO was able to train farmers on these methods of alternative pest control and other best agricultural practices. This learning environment allows farmers to practice, test and evaluate new sustainable methods and technologies by comparing the results of the demonstration plots with their conventional ones.
In addition, the FFS approach has significantly strengthened the social cohesion among Yemeni farmers, especially in the conflict areas, by helping them decide together as a group a plan of action for their fields instead of each deciding individually.
The FAO project has also provided monitoring equipment (including pheromone traps used to attract pests to a specific location) and smartphones offering the FAMEWS mobile application to collect, record and transmit data gathered from pheromone traps. FAO trained technical staff on the use of the mobile application to help in scouting for and monitoring the pest.
Worldwide, FAO promotes an integrated pest management approach that minimizes reliance on chemical pesticides and incorporates sustainable practices, such as regular monitoring for pests.
With support from FAO, the national authorities in Yemen have since built the capacity to identify, monitor and manage Fall armyworm. FAO said it is rolling out this training and encouraging the use of biopesticides in other countries struggling with this pest.
Source: the FAO News and Media office, Rome
– global bihari bureau