By Sharon Atieno

An initiative led by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) has developed new biopesticides to combat the invasive and highly destructive fall armyworm in Africa.

Through the support of development partners, public and private sectors in East Africa, the Centre has undertaken label extension of two of its commercially available biopesticides, Mazao Achieve® (ICIPE 78) and Mazao Tickoff® (ICIPE 7), which are now being upscaled for fall armyworm control.

Also, a number of newly discovered biopesticides – ICIPE 41, ICIPE 655, ICIPE 20- are undergoing fast-tracked registration.

Welcoming these new developments and recognizing the role of regional cooperation, Dr Segenet Kelemu, Director General & CEO, icipe said in a statement: “At icipe, we are aware that our efforts have succeeded due to regional cooperation, as well as efficiency of regulatory bodies to harmonise and fast track biopesticide registration and commercialisation across East Africa.”

“The fact that we have been able to fast-track promising products for the control of a major menace, from the lab to the field, in a relatively short time is testament to the importance of an enabling policy and regulatory environment for release, registration and trade of agro-inputs,” said Mr David Wafula, Agriculture Specialist, EAC.

He added: “Indeed, this achievement is in line with the vision of EAC partner states; that of working together to address the challenges in agriculture, one of the most important sectors in the region.”

The icipe biopesticides, developed from the Centre’s extensive repository of insect infecting microorganism strains, are effective against different stages of the fall armyworm life cycle. For example, the biopesticides manage both the egg and early larval stages of the pest, preventing emergence of the destructive larval stage while also hampering population build-up.

Moreover, the Centre has established that the biopesticides can be used in combination with other fall armyworm management options like the push-pull technology, pheromone traps, attractants and the pest’s natural enemies. The biopesticides can also be autodisseminated; meaning that fall armyworms that pick-up the fungi can spread it to others.

“In Uganda, and across Africa, safe and efficacious bio-based innovative solutions are urgently needed to help tackle the enormous challenges to food and nutritional security of our people posed by the destructive and highly invasive cryptic insects like the fall armyworm and locusts,” noted Dr Elioda Tumwesigye (MP), Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation, Uganda.

“We are delighted to have been part of the journey towards the development of the icipe biopesticides, which, in the long-term, sets scene for similar, goal-oriented collaborations and networks.”

Prof. Hamadi Iddi Boga, Principal Secretary, State Department for Agricultural Research, in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, Kenya, stressed: “This icipe-led process presents a great model for developing agricultural innovations. It demonstrates that partnerships founded on shared visions and values can help to circumvent challenges that often stifle such initiatives.”

Until 2016, the pest which infests more than 100 plant species including maize, sorghum, rice and sugarcane, as well as a variety of horticultural crops, was confined to its native origin, the Western Hemisphere (from the United States of America to Argentina).

However, in January of the same year, the fall armyworm was reported in Nigeria, and has since been confirmed in 47 African countries. The pest has also dispersed widely in Asia, and it was recently reported in Australia.

Control of the fall armyworm through conventional methods like the use of chemical insecticides, is complicated by the fact that the adult stage of the pest is most active at night, and the infestation is only detected after damage has been caused to the crop. Furthermore, the fall armyworm has a high tendency to develop resistance to most synthetic pesticides.

As such, the pest has significant implications for food and nutritional security, trade, household incomes and overall economies, as well as negative impacts on people and the environment in Africa.