As a predominantly agricultural country, Eritrea must be attentive to challenges for small-scale farmers who depend on their crops for food and income. This brief article will explore recent news and initiatives regarding two notable agricultural threats: Fall Armyworm and desert locusts.
Fall Armyworm is a feared crop pest which has wrought devastation in Africa. The pest, which eats maize and other crops, is almost impossible to eradicate, and leaves farmers no choice but to control it as best as they can, which is likely to raise the cost of production. For Eritrea, a primarily agricultural country, Fall Armyworm is especially worrying and it has been a key area of focus for the country Ministry of Agriculture.
Last month, the Ministry of Agriculture conducted an annual activity assessment meeting. The meeting reviewed progress made and challenges encountered during the year 2018. It also outlined areas of focus for 2019. The Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Arefaine Berhe, stressed that Fall Armyworm (FAW) management is one of the key priorities for the upcoming year. He reminded participants at the meeting that crop rotation and other integrated pest management techniques are critical to combating FAWs, other pests, and weeds. Furthermore, he urged Eritrean farmers to continue the day-to-day surveillance of their farmland and also to uproot and burn FAW-infested maize plants until other control options are developed.
During the meeting, Mr. Tedros Sium, the head of the migratory pests control unit, disclosed that in 2018 FAW posed a big threat to the agriculture sectors of many African countries. Fortunately, however, Eritrea largely escaped the threat thanks to the integrated control measures taken. According to Mr. Tedros, Eritrea took a preventive strategy, which included mass awareness campaigns involving the use of media outlets and the organization of dozens of meetings with various stakeholders. In total, 4000 leaflets, 1000 posters, 1100 stickers, and many banners providing information about FAW were distributed throughout the country. In terms of meeting, more than 153,000 people participated.
During the first incidence of FAW in the country, occurring during the first months of 2018, all relevant bodies were informed about FAW and its various characteristics. Preliminary management measures were also outlined and implemented. Additionally, off-season maize crops, planted on less than 1000 hectares, were uprooted and burnt in order to save the main summer crops. This was critical to ensuring that Eritrea escaped the major FAW threat during the summer rainy season.
In addition to FAW, Eritrea must be highly attentive to the threat posed by desert locusts, a species of locust. Plagues of desert locusts have threatened agricultural production in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia for centuries. In fact, crop loss from locusts was noted in the Holy Bible and the Qur’an, while these insects have also been documented as contributing to the severity of a number of famines throughout history.
Today, the voracious, fast-spreading insect poses a threat to the livelihood of many farmers around the world. Desert locusts consume nearly all crops, and noncrop plants, including pearl millet, maize, sorghum, barley, rice, pasture grasses, sugarcane, cotton, fruit trees, date palms, banana plants, vegetables and weeds. According to experts, the desert locust is potentially the most dangerous of the locust pests because of the ability of swarms to fly rapidly across great distances. In fact, locust swarms fly with the wind at roughly the speed of the wind. Moreover, they can cover anywhere from 100 to 200 kilometers in a single day, and can fly up to about 2000 meters above sea level.
In Eritrea, by the end of last month, more than 2100 hectares of land infested with desert locusts were treated in the sub-zones of Massawa and Sheeb. The Massawa sub-zone has more than 4000 hectares of land which is cultivated through spate irrigation (67%), winter rains (31%), and modern irrigation systems (2%).
Local farmers, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, and other relevant government bodies, engaged in various desert locust controlling operations. The areas which were treated in the subzones of Massawa and Sheeb include Gedem, Emberemi, Wedi’elo, Wekiro, and Hasmet. According to Mr. Dawit Angesom, the head of the Ministry of Agriculture branch in the Massawa sub-zone, the cooperation of farmers should continue until the harvest is secured. Mr. Dawit added that, “So far, around 1700 hectares of sorghum has reached the harvesting stage and around 500 hectares are at maturity stage. The rest of the crops and vegetables, like maize, pearl millet, cowpeas, okra, tomatoes, watermelons, and date palms, are in good condition.”
During the past four months, around 14,000 hectares of land infested with desert locusts in the sub-zones of Karora, Afabet, Sheeb, Masswa, and Foro has been treated. In addition, in the sub-zone of Afabet, a total of 328 hectares of land infested with African migratory locusts were treated. This initiative was carried out through the full participation of farmers. Meanwhile, around 500 hectares of land infested with tree locusts in Gash Barka region were treated. Again, this initiative involved the full cooperation of local farmers, as well as the support of the Eritrean Crop and Livestock Corporation.
Ministry of Agriculture