The Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) has intensified the fight against the fall armyworm that has devastated farmers’ crops, especially maize.
The pest has left farmers around the country worried about their harvests fuelling concerns about the country’s food security in the near future if the invasion is not contained fast enough.
The men and women in uniform, together with local leaders, yesterday, took the fight to Niboye Sector, Kicukiro District in Kigali.
The acting defence and military spokesperson, Lt Col René Ngendahimana, told The New Times that RDF’s intervention is nationwide.
He said that the Force joined the operation after realising that the pest poses a threat to national food security.
“It is our duty to deter such threats,” he said.
Joseph Twagirimana, a farmer in Niboye Sector, had his 2.5-ha cornfield attacked by the pest.
The father of two said he has faint hope for a harvest following the invasion of the armyworm caterpillar.
“Maize crops normally reach maturity in about three months, but as you can see, they have not yet developed the tassels,” he told The New Times from his field in Gatare cell, yesterday.
“I am suspecting I’ve lost up to 75 per cent of my investments,” Twagirimana said.
Nonetheless, the farmer was full of praise for the RDF.
“First, I thank God for having given us good leadership, a leadership that always thinks about the people. That the military has joined us in the fight against this attack is not to be taken for granted. We are very grateful to them,” he said.
He called on responsible institutions to conduct research into such outbreaks with view to ascertain the sources and causes of such pests and devising preventive measures.
“We apply fertiliser and do all we can to improve our produce,” he said. “But, as farmers, we are always vulnerable to such pests. We have no idea how to prevent them”.
Eric Ndabarishe, an agronomist for Niboye, said about eight hectares of maize in the sector had been affected and by the armyworm.
In Rwanda, the pest was first reported late February in Mushishito in Nyamagabe District.
And by March 13, it had spread to all the nine districts in Southern Province, according to Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB).
In the previous months, the armyworm had been reported in several eastern and southern African countries.
On April 15, 2017, Rwanda Defence Force airlifted some 4,500 liters of the pyrethrum EWC+, a locally-made pesticide, to different parts of the country as the battle against the pest gathered momentum.
Rwanda Air Force choppers delivered pesticides to Karongi, Huye and Rwamagana districts, in Western, Southern and Eastern provinces, respectively.
But an army of officers, men and women of the RDF has also joined with residents, local leaders and experts across the country in spraying the pesticide to the affected plantations.
Besides maize, the pest is known to attack sorghum, wheat and rice.
All these crops are key foodstuff in Rwanda.
Horizon Sopyrwa/Agropy, a Ministry of Defence-affiliated firm, the manufactures of pyrethrum EWC+ has capacity to produce up to 4,000 litres of the pesticide a day, according to officials.
One to two litres of the pesticide can be used to spray a hectare.
Figures show that average maize produce per hectare had increased from about two tonnes in 2008 to five tonnes presently thanks to the government’s interventions, including fertiliser and subsidies.
But there are fears that these gains might be rolled back in the wake of the armyworm attack.
The pest multiplies quickly, experts say. An adult moth lays eggs on the surface of leaves which hatch after 2-3 days. The resultant larvae (caterpillar) feed on leaves causing severe damage to a crop.
According to information from the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, the pest has been reported in 108 sectors (of the country’s 416 sectors) in 23 districts (out of 30 countrywide), attacking some 15,699 hectares of maize and sorghum.
The affected area represents 24.7 per cent of the total area on which maize and sorghum are grown countrywide.