Use of GIS in monitoring fall armyworm (FAW) in Zimbabwe

The FAW (Spodoptera frugiperda) originates from the tropical regions of the United States, Argentina, and the Caribbean region and is a serious pest of maize in Brazil and other countries. The first reports of outbreaks of the Fall Armyworm (FAW) in Africa came from several West and Central African countries early in 2016 eventually spreading to the southern parts of Africa such as Zimbabwe and South Africa. The FAW flies on prevailing winds, has a short life-cycle, and attacks a wide range of crops, rendering it a serious economic risk to our farmers in Zimbabwe be it small scale or commercial. It is classified as an A1 quarantine pest on the list of the European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization (EPPO), and is a quarantine pest in Zimbabwe.

Despite the fact that the pest is polyphagous, country level assessments indicate wide spread infestations mainly for the maize crop which happens to be the staple crop of our country Zimbabwe. Effective control is recommended at early instar stage and early crop development stage (vegetative period). There has been mixed messages in terms of options for control of fall armyworm and the small holder farmer has been on the receiving end. The small holder sector suffers the most because most of them cannot afford to purchase chemicals used for FAW control as they are expensive also lack of knowledge on how to best deal with the invasive species of the pest is also a challenge to the small holder farmers in Zimbabwe.

Idea for sustainable crop protection

Since fall armyworm flies to new territories on prevailing winds, my idea is to use GIS to track movement of prevailing winds from one region to another, country to country. If this is done in Zimbabwe, monitoring of the pest’s movements will be made easier as maps generated from GIS software such as QGIS can be drawn to clearly show the movement of the pest from one place to the other. This would also allow efficient early warning systems in which measures of control of FAW can be put in place just before the arrival of the invasive pest in a new area.

The use of GIS is not only restricted to tracking movements of prevailing winds only, but it can also be used as a prediction tool in which the software employed can be used to predict the movement of the pest season per season and again maps can be generated to show the movement pattern of the FAW. Use of this technology in Zimbabwe can be very advantageous and is sustainable as current and previous remote sensed data is easily accessible on the internet for use by different stakeholders so monitoring and predictions of winds and FAW can easily be done every season without any environmental damage being done. For me the best way to deal with fall armyworm is through preventative measures so the use of GIS software which allows prediction of the movements of the pests and the prevailing winds is the way to go.

How it can be done

As l see it, the way forward involves us crop scientists working together closely with people from the geography department as they are very familiar with GIS and how best to apply it in agricultural related fields such as plant protection against FAW. As the crop scientists we should be there to identify the problem, in this case the prevalence of the invasive species of FAW in Zimbabwe and the devastating effects of the pests to our staple crop (maize) and other grain crops and use various measures of prevention and control of the pests. These methods may include the use of integrated pest management (IPM) for instance cultural methods such as the use of botanicals to control the pests, chemical control as the last resort, prediction and early warning systems.

For the IPM against FAW to be effective, GIS for monitoring and prediction of prevailing winds and pest movement has to be done so that the measures that the crop scientists can employ based on the GIS data can be highly successful. According to how l see it, if measures for prediction and monitoring of the pests at national level are not put in place, Zimbabwe will continue to suffer huge economic losses in maize production and as a country we cannot afford this to happen to our staple crop. The idea of incorporating GIS in crop protection offers possibilities of less economic damage to our crops and possible job creations for both recent graduates in crop science like myself and graduates from the geography department. This idea can also reduce chances hunger in the country due to severe pest infestations. The mere fact that maps can be generated by GIS software entails that information on the movement of the pests and the winds can easily be made available to the general public hence encouraging awareness or alertness.

Reasons for putting up the idea

One of the main reasons why l came up with the idea of using GIS to monitor and predict FAW movement is based on the fact that l did a project that involved use of GIS tools in agriculture and l was fascinated by how easily things can be done in the comfort of one’s office without actually going to the area of study. From the lessons that l had from the geography department at the University of Zimbabwe l learnt that so much can be done using this recent technology to the benefit of various stakeholders, agricultural disciplines included. I also feel that the use of GIS technology is the best way to go as satellite imagery can be easily downloaded for the whole country and then measures can be employed for the control of FAW at specific sites or locations as shown by maps generated from the satellite imagery. This idea can help me enhance my knowledge on geographic information systems as a recent graduate of crop science and to know how best to utilize the technology in my field of study.

Tarisai Mazinyani, Zimbabwe

46 comments

  1. This is profound, however how are botanical costs (as in, the costs of preparation ) compared to the use of chemicals on the FAW?

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    1. Botanicals are locally available and easily accessible so they are cheaper than chemical pesticides, also they are environmentally friendly!

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  2. practical and scientific… thanx for keeping the farmer updated with daily solutions for daily problems..food security and sustainability is our new resolve

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  3. This is appropriate for Zimbabwe and indeed southern Africa. Early detection will greatly help farmers and governments take early action. This is a great great idea.

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  4. quite an informative article Miss Mazinyani,i hope the Agricultural Industry in Zimbabwe will harness the GIS in best promoting sustainability in the sector.Do give us more on how the GIS can best be adopted in all sectors of Agriculture.

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  5. It was well researched and last agricultural season these armyworms devastated my maize crop so your device needs to be employed to monitor the spreading of the pest

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