As the presenter of a popular agriculture radio program, Gideon Sarkodie is well-versed on the challenges facing smallholder farmers. But in the six years he’s hosted Thank you farmers, he’s never seen anything like the devastation farmers are experiencing now.
“Some people lost their whole farms. Some people could not plant during the minor season because they lost their income during the major season,” he says.
Farmers across Ghana are reeling from the arrival of a new pest. Since 2016, the Fall armyworm has been spreading across much of sub-Saharan Africa. It’s still unclear how the pest, indigenous to the Americas, arrived on the continent.
The caterpillar has a voracious appetite and reproduces quickly. Feeding on over 80 plant species, with staple crops like maize and rice among its preferred foods, it poses a major threat to food security across Africa. It’s estimated that crop loss in Africa could rise to $13 billion US.
The Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) has been closely monitoring the Fall armyworm’s spread as it coordinates a response. Walter Hevi, a project manager at CABI, says the pest poses unique challenges for farmers.
“When people first saw the worm they thought it was the normal armyworm, but their habit is different,” he says.
The African armyworm, which Walter is referring to, feeds on leaves. The Fall armyworm also feeds on leaves, particularly as a young caterpillar, where it can damage the growing point, or terminal, of th eplant. The Fall armyworm also bores into the cobs of maize plants, where it does significant damage and can hide from detection. Learn more about the Fall armyworm here.
“When they enter, they target the whole of the plant. Once they destroy that, you can’t have any harvest, as compared to the African armyworm, which feeds just at the side of the leaves and the terminal can still continue growing,” says Walter.
With early identification and proper pesticide application (including biological pesticides), it might be possible to control the Fall armyworm – but how to get this information to rural farmers? Enter radio.
When attending a series of workshops on the Fall armyworm this spring in Accra, Ben Fiafor, director of Farm Radio Ghana, immediately saw a place for his organization.
“When we heard that the Fall armyworm is destroying the farms and farmers do not have any information, they do not know what to do, how to control it, or where to go, we realized that is what we do,” he says. “We link up with those who have the information and make sure that information is available for farmers at the right time, in the right form.”
Farm Radio immediately created a series of two-minute radio spots with information on identification, prevention, and control of Fall armyworm. The spots were translated into nine languages and shared with more than 80 stations that Farm Radio works with. Broadcasting partners also received a list of experts that radio stations could interview as guests on their programs to provide listeners with more information about the caterpillar.
Interest was so strong that Farm Radio also created three half-hour radio scripts in response to the stations’ desire to do more Fall armyworm programming.
Gideon’s station, ADARS FM, has been playing the radio spots a minimum of four times a day.
“For those of them who listen to radio, they hear the information and they are able to know how they should go about it when they detect worms on their farm. So for example, they know they need to contact the agric extension officers,” he says.
Programs like Gideon’s will continue to be essential in the future.
“The Fall armyworm has come to stay,” says Walter. “So what do we do? The whole idea is not to say we want to eradicate the Fall armyworm, but how do you manage it.”
With the continued efforts of Farm Radio and partners like Gideon and ADARS FM, farmers will have the best information to protect their farms, their livelihoods, and food security in Ghana.
Read more about Gideon Sarkodie, a George Atkins Communications Award winner in 2016.