Like any other crop, sweetpotato is susceptible to attacks by pests and diseases due to various factors including the agroecological and climate conditions. Rwandan farmers, particularly maize and sweetpotato growers have been experiencing an army worm attack since the beginning of the current agricultural season.
The army worm was first spotted in the southern part of Rwanda, at the end of February 2017. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the pest originated from West Africa, where it was identified for the first time in the beginning of January 2017. From there, it quickly spread to other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
Armyworm, whose scientific name is Spodoptera frugiperda, has mainly attacked the maize crop across the country. According to statistics provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, 15,699 out of 63,499 hectares planted with maize were infested along the whole last season. First identified in the large Sweetpotato seed multiplication site Rwanda Agriculture Board in Karama, the pest proliferates rapidly and damages sweetpotato leaves.
The armyworm is not the only pest that invaded Rwanda’s agricultural lands. From the same biological family, the Hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata) has also been on the rampage in sweetpotato fields, devouring the leaves and leaving only the sweetpotato vines in its wake.
The Armyworm is a new sweetpotato pest to Rwandan farmers, threatening both sweetpotato growers and breeders. “There is an urgent need to find a quick solution to this insect as it may spread to other parts of the country, “says Jean Ndirigwe, the Head of the Sweetpotato Program at the Rwanda Agriculture Board.
The sweetpotato seed multiplication site in Karama research station is managed by the Rwanda Agriculture Board together with the International Potato center (CIP), which leads research on potato and sweetpotatoes at a global scale. This site is one the seed hubs that provide clean planting materials to different regions, supported by other materials from CIP’s Decentralized Vine Multipliers (DVMs) who operate as business farmers.
Armyworms attack sweetpotato crops as the joint efforts are being spread across the country by the Ministry of Agriculture together with the Ministry of Defense. Thousands of hectares are already being prepared and planted with sweetpotato vines. This is after sweetpotato was identified as one of the best subsistence and cash crop commodity after a long period of famine that hit the country following last year’s drought that severely affected the agricultural productivity across the region.
As the ongoing vigorous joint efforts to address the problem are promising to rescue the expected agriculture produce for this season, the Minister of Agriculture Dr. Geraldine Mukeshimana, assures the public that there will be no shortage of food during the upcoming dry season. “The armyworms will not seriously impact food security because maize was not cultivated in large areas of land during the agriculture season 2017B,” she says.
At least, 95% of the total cultivated land this season – 1,300,000 hectares – covers other crops which will sustain food security. These crops include beans, Irish potatoes, banana, rice, wheat, soybeans, and cassava that have been prioritized under the Crop Intensification Program (CIP).