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Africa's farming crops receive support against invasive pests

As invasive and indigenous insect pests continue to create havoc on crops across Africa, a Virginia Tech-led project is intensifying its work to coordinate a response that looks beyond geographic and financial barriers.

Stopping crop losses requires working across borders, said Muni Muniappan, director of the Virginia Tech-led Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management. “Fighting these pests in just a few of these countries is futile, because it will continue to thrive in the countries where we are not working,” he said.

With the United Nations signalling that hunger is a problem for more than a quarter of adults in sub-Saharan Africa, helping farmers in Africa is a crucial goal for the Innovation Lab.

Muniappan – at an emergency meeting in Entebbe, Uganda, organised by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center – joined a group in September laying out a roadmap for controlling fall armyworm. He called for creation of a database to cover all of Africa listing the pest’s natural enemies, with the cooperation of USAID, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, and other international agencies.

In places already dealing with drought and political instability, invasive pests like the fall armyworm limit the ability of farmers to grow enough food. The armyworm arrived in Nigeria in early 2016 and later spread to more than 28 African countries, where it threatens to wreak $3 billion worth of damage to the continent’s crops.

A second high-profile pest is the South American tomato leafminer, Tuta absoluta. Virginia Tech’s Innovation lab held 16 awareness workshops worldwide that helped mitigate the pest’s damage by enabling scientists, researchers, and farmers from nearly 60 countries to more effectively battle it.

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