By Elisha Singira

A multi-channel extension approach to fall armyworm pests has showed an increase in maize yield of 10 to 34% depending on the information channel.

This is according to a research that was conducted by the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) and the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) in Eastern Rwanda on 720 smallholder farmers.

The research team led by CABI’s Dr. Justice Tambo discovered that exposure to a combined mass extension campaign consisting of plant health rallies, radio dramas and SMS all contributed to better identification of fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) as well as more environmentally-friendly ways of managing the pest.

The study suggests that much greater gain can be achieved if the growing popularity in the use of digital extension approaches to deliver timely information to farmers in a cost-effective manner could be combined with other low-cost face-to-face extension methods, such as plant health rallies.

Notably, the fall armyworm has the potential to cause annual maize production losses of up to 17.70 million tons (equivalent to USD $4.66 billion) in 12 maize-producing African countries alone.

In essence, fall armyworm was first reported in Nyamagabe district in Rwanda in February 2017, and within 2 months, its presence was recorded in all of the country’s 30 districts. It is causing severe damage to maize crops, resulting in economic losses, worsened food security and intensive pesticide usage among smallholder maize farmers.

“We examined the effectiveness of three complementary mass-extension channels in enhancing farmers’ knowledge and management of fall armyworm, an invasive pest that is causing substantial damage to maize production in several countries across Africa, Asia and Oceania. We also assessed the effects of the information channels on maize productivity,” said Dr. Tambo.

“Our findings suggest that exposure to the campaign channels is associated with increased knowledge outcomes, including knowledge of the correct identification of fall armyworm, the use of cultural practices as the first resort to fall armyworm management, timely planting to limit infestation and timely spraying for effective control of the pest.”

However, the positive effects of the campaign are statistically significant only when the field-based extension method is combined with digital extension approaches, she said adding that they found the effects are greater for households that were exposed to all the three channels, suggesting complementary effects of the channels.

Furthermore, Dr. Tambo said that the results showed, for instance, that receiving fall armyworm messages through any of the channels is correlated with a 7% increase in farmers’ level of knowledge on fall armyworm. But the knowledge gain could increase to up to 23% when the information is received through all the three channels under study.

She posited that households exposed to the information channels were significantly more likely to regularly monitor their maize fields for fall armyworm, and adopt cultural, chemical, mechanical measures for fall armyworm control than those who did not receive the fall armyworm information. The impact estimates are less pronounced for chemical control than for other management practices, implying that the campaign is associated with the use of more environmentally friendly approaches to fall armyworm management.

The researchers however concluded that future research could concentrate more on the intensity of exposure to the information channels as well as using experimental designs to test the findings of the current study.