Fall Armyworm

Professor Toby Bruce

Keele University’s Professor Toby Bruce has been awarded a major grant of £1.1million from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to investigate solutions to the rising problem of the Fall Armyworm, in collaboration with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) in Kenya.

The Fall Armyworm has recently invaded and rapidly spread across large areas of Africa, where it has become a major threat to agriculture, sustainable food production, food security and livelihoods, affecting at least 400,000 ha and causing estimated crop losses worth $3 billion a year.

The three-year research project, which commenced in 2018, employs a four-pronged attack on the Fall Armyworm, involving resistant crops, companion cropping to repel Fall Armyworm and attract them to trap crops, and enhancing biological control with natural enemies of the pest.

Working in close partnership with local farmers in Kenya, the icipe and Keele research team are developing a novel pest management system which fights ‘nature with nature’, without using pesticides.

Smallholder farming communities in sub-Saharan Africa are particularly vulnerable to crop losses to pests because they generally cannot afford pesticides, and as subsistence farmers they depend directly on the crops for their food security.

The novel design of pest management based on the four strategies of resist, expel, trap and kill should provide a novel cropping system which can withstand attack by Fall Armyworm and other major pests.

Design of such a system requires a detailed understanding of the predators and parasites that are the key natural enemies of the invasive Fall Armyworm in Kenya. Therefore, a major part of this project is to understand the current pest and predator relationship where the crops are being grown.

Professor Bruce said: “Once we understand the current pest-predator relationship, we will be able to test how such companion cropping and early alert crops could reduce crop losses to the Fall Armyworm, using crops that are readily available to the farmers in Kenya. Working with the local farmers, we will codesign solutions with them so that that we can be assured from the onset that the novel cropping system that is created is not just appropriate for their requirements, but can be feasibly implemented with the resources available to them.”

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