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Project Highlight – Leading the Effort to Protect Africa’s Crops


As invasive and indigenous insect pests continue to wreak havoc on farms across Africa, CIRED’s Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovation Lab is intensifying its work beyond borders and other barriers to protect crops and regional food security.

With the United Nations signaling that hunger is a problem for more than a quarter of adults in sub-Saharan Africa, helping farmers in Africa is an imperative goal for the IPM. The USAID-funded project traditionally focused its work on Feed the Future countries identified by the USAID Bureau of Food Security, but is now helping coordinate the pest threat response in other African countries as well.

This coordinated approach is especially crucial in places already dealing with drought and political instability. Invasive pests like the South American leafminer, and the fall armyworm limit the ability of farmers to grow enough food and undermine food security, according to IPM director Muni Muniappan.  Fighting pests like the fall armyworm and the South American leafminer in just a few of these countries is futile, he said, “because they will continue to thrive in the countries where we are not working.”

The fall armyworm arrived in Nigeria in early 2016 and later spread to more than 28 African countries. It now threatens to wreak $3 billion worth of damage on over 80 staple crops, including corn, rice, sorghum, and millet.

At an emergency meeting in Uganda organized by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in September, Muniappan joined a group laying out a roadmap for controlling fall armyworm. He called for USAID, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and other international agencies to cooperate in the creation of a database covering all of Africa that lists the pest’s natural enemies.

Muniappan also gave the keynote address on efforts to manage invasive mealybugs to the African Association of Insect Scientists meeting in Wad Medani, Sudan in October.  Approximately 250 participants from across sub-Saharan Africa and beyond attended. While at the event, Muniappan organized a session on efforts to stop the evasive South American tomato leafminer in Africa, which has spread throughout the continent and other parts of the world. The IPM Innovation Lab has conducted over 20 meetings, symposia, and workshops to create awareness in countries where the miner has yet to invade and management workshops where it has already arrived.

In a related project, the Innovation Lab is performing work under a grant from the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sorghum and Millet at Kansas State University to establish biological control of pests threatening millet in Niger, including the fall armyworm. Three parasitic wasps are under consideration to be released as natural enemies. Muniappan is working with researchers in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania to potentially propagate the wasps to protect crops in that part of the continent.

With these combined efforts across Africa, the Innovation Lab is helping protect crops in Africa and provide scientific leadership across borders. For more on its work, go to the project website for updates.