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The menace of the fall armyworm: Lere Amusan and Seyi Olelekan Olawuyi discuss climate change, 'foreign insect' and food security challenges in Nigeria and South Africa.

Hunger resulting from food insecurity is a known life-threatening social menace facing mankind, especially in many sub-Saharan Africa countries today. It is a challenge that has attracted the attention of many governments and relevant stakeholders in recent times. The reason is simple: the continuous vicious cycle of poverty and the pitiable state of food and nutrition security. Global climate change is partly responsible for the hunger being experienced by many people, especially in farming households, across the African continent. Many farming smallholders are surviving in a subsistence economy. Their livelihoods and sustenance largely depend on natural resource endowments.

All the countries across the globe, including Nigeria and South Africa, are vulnerable to climate change and its attendant consequences. The high temperatures and reduced rainfall experienced in many parts of Nigeria during the 2015/16 planting season are part of the effect of climate change. South Africa is currently experiencing the same problems. (1) This situation, which has major environmental and socio-economic implications, poses a big threat to food crop productivity. Many people in Nigeria and South Africa, as in other developing countries, rely heavily on agriculture and agricultural related activities for survival because a significant percentage of them are rural dwellers. (2) Farming activities are vulnerable to climate change shocks, which in turn have an adverse effect on food and nutrition security. This scenario, therefore, threatens the achievement of Goal 2 of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, which aim at zero hunger through food security, improved nutrition and sustainable agriculture. Climate change has various effects on agriculture, especially crop growth, quality and volume of production. This could, in turn, affect the supply and demand chain of agricultural products in the market, resulting in soaring food prices in local markets, which definitely affects international trade patterns.

Climate change effects also include the growth and infestation of insect pests in agricultural landscapes across Africa, threatening farmers' productive capacity. Insect pests' response to climate change and its implication for food security are causing growing concern. As Terblanche et al have noted, 'given the agricultural and economic burden imposed by several notorious crop pests, this concern is indeed warranted'. (3) In many developing countries, the insect pest hinders the achievement of food security and poverty alleviation among smallholder farmers because of their restrictive and limited productive resources. Additionally, an increased number of generations of insect pests within an agricultural season (otherwise known as voltinism) poses the danger of colossal crop damage. A 'foreign insect', the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda), is a particular threat. It is currently ravaging the agricultural landscape of many countries in Africa, but in this article we focus on two pivotal countries--Nigeria and South Africa. We will consider not only how the fall armyworm contributes to food insecurity in both but also how to address this problem. Employing neo-liberal theory, we observe that complex inter-dependence cooperation offers the likely solution to this challenge in the form of African states coming together to arrest the spread of insects that destroy plants needed for sustainable development in agriculture.

Neo-liberal theory suggests that states come together in the form of an international regime/organisation with a view to finding common ground for the development of humankind and promotion of public goods that may not be provided in isolation. Since no state is an island, this position promotes globalisation, though with some lapses as indicated by the challenges faced by developing states, economic development and human rights, in contrast to the neo-realist theory of power politics, which promotes animosity and suspicion among nations. This paradigm has led to the formation of many economic regimes, such as the African Union, Southern African Development Cooperation, the New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development and a series of bi-national commissions, among others, for the development of Africa. According to complex inter-dependence theory, as captured by Joseph Nye and Robert Keohane, there is no hierarchy of state; emphasis is placed on 'jointness', 'non-exclusiveness' and vulnerability, while the notion of the total autonomy and sovereignty of member states in the global system is eroded. (4) In this article, we employ the theory to suggest a solution to the problem of food security with emphasis on finding ways to deal with the fall armyworm scourge so that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with emphasis on Goal 2 can be achieved.

Insect danger

Changes in climate, mostly in warmer areas, bring about changes in insect distribution as a result of changes in insects' survival, procreation and voltinism rates. By altering the ecosystem in many parts of Africa, this will have serious implications for food availability. Female moths of this insect lay about 200 eggs under plant leaves. Within a few days, young larvae start feeding from cereals and other plant leaves. According to Goergen and Abraham et al, fall armyworms feed on more than 80 different species of plants with more emphasis on staple foods such as wheat, maize, millet, rice, sorghum, sugarcane and vegetables. (5) Cowpea, peanuts, potato, soybean and cotton are also target crops. Fall armyworms have an insatiable appetite. Prolific breeders, they spread rapidly in favourable environmental conditions.

Originally a native of the Americas, mostly in the tropical and sub-tropical part of those continents, the fall armyworm has been spreading across many sub-Saharan Africa countries since 2016. Fall armyworms are capable of colonising most of tropical Africa in a relatively short period. Environmental and climatic conditions in Africa largely support their reproduction and spread, especially in the western, central and southern regions; and there is a high likelihood of the pest's spread to other regions when the climatic conditions become more favourable.

Presently, the fall armyworm has been officially flagged in about eleven countries. At least fourteen other countries are under close watch and monitoring for its presence and breakout. Furthermore, the cost of crop losses resulting from fall armyworm infestation has been estimated at about US$13,383 million. (6) It is worth noting that this estimate applies only to economically important crops; it excludes other crops the insect feeds on, and the potential loss of planting seeds for the subsequent growing seasons. Fall armyworm infestations during the mid- to late corn stage may cause significant yield losses of about 15-73 per cent when 55-100 per cent of the plants are infested. The 'foreign insect' pest appears to be much more damaging to maize in West and Central Africa than most other African Spodoptera species. (7)

Significant loss

Given the potential impact of the fall armyworm on almost all types of known crop plants, especially maize and cereal, a significant loss of agricultural production output can be expected. Such output is an important source of income for the majority of rural dwellers in affected countries and, by extension, the main source of income, as well as of food and fibre, for most households in many countries. This is, of course, likely to impact on the food security situation, according to the thinktank ACAPS. (8) It is already a major concern in many of the affected countries, especially Nigeria and South Africa. Any disruptions to availability and accessibility of food may aggravate food insecurity, and create the type of political instability that was evident during the Arab Spring in North Africa in 2011. Hence, crop damage is a concern for various government organs and development experts because livelihood assistance is a major priority to cushion and smooth the impact. In furtherance to this, ACAPS noted that farmers are likely to disproportionately suffer the fall armyworm outbreak impact because countermeasures are very expensive for farmers to access without government and international organisations' intervention.

Achieving zero hunger, better and improved food and nutrition security is at the heart of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. But the global impact of climate change poses a great risk and challenge to agricultural productivity; hence, ending hunger and malnutrition is on the line. (9) These risks have cumulative and amplifying effects on the availability and accessibility of food as well as the utilisation and sustained stability of food production systems in Nigeria and South Africa because of the incidence and invasion of the fall armyworm.

Pronounced vulnerability

A critical examination of the economic dimension of food security revealed the pronounced vulnerability of smallholder farmers. This is exacerbated by their limited capacity in terms of resource endowment to cope with climate induced risks and shocks (such as the fall armyworm infestation). (10) The effect of these shocks can translate into reduction in income, depleted savings, market access difficulties and trade interruption as well as negative impact on food supply. In summary, the cumulative effect can lead to the total erosion of livelihoods, and an increase in hunger and malnutrition across the African continent and globally. The potential impact of climate change on agro-ecosystems and agricultural production has serious consequences from an economic and social point of view. In other words, according to the FAO:
   The impact translates from climate to the environment, to the
   productive sphere, to economic and social dimensions. At each
   stage of this stress transmission chain, the impact is determined
   by the shock itself and vulnerability at the stage of the stressed
   system. That is, the transmission of a stress can be amplified or
   reduced, depending on the vulnerabilities at each level of the
   system. Vulnerability can increase over time if households face
   repeated episodes that steadily erode their assets base. These
   mechanisms of transmission, and the role played by the various
   vulnerabilities at each level, are what determine the final
   impact on food security and nutrition.

One important economic consequence of climate change in Africa generally is the greater uncertainty surrounding the production system, which obviously reduces motivation and incentives to invest in agricultural production; this potentially offsets the positive impact of increasing food price trends. Smallholder farmers with meagre production resources and inability to access crop insurance are especially vulnerable.

Furthermore, climate change can have social and economic consequences. For instance, it can impact on farmers' physical capital. Farmers may be forced to put up productive capital (for example, cattle, sheep and goats) for sale--that is, distress sales of assets--so as to cope with income shocks arising from crop failure (as in the case of losses caused by fall armyworm infestation). Such a scenario directly impacts on smallholder farmers, thereby limiting their purchasing power on health, education and other nonfood consumption expenditure. At the global level, such impacts have direct consequences on the economic and social status of the population generally, which by extension can trigger an increase in the traded agricultural commodities' prices. In the case of Nigeria and South Africa, which are somewhat agriculture dependent countries and for which agriculture is an important part of their respective gross domestic products, climatic change induced impacts can discourage investment in agriculture. This may affect import and export activities, with consequent disruption of trade patterns for these states and, at the extreme end, political instability. The loss of animals and plants to climate change released many young Africans to join mercenaries and terrorist groups in many parts of the continent, as happened in Mali, leading to civil war in that country. The activities of Boko Haram, al-Qaeda in the Maghreb and ISIS cells in the continent cannot be totally delinked from the effects of climate variability.

Holistic approach

In other words, when food prices soar, better off consumers will continue to purchase regardless, whereas disadvantaged consumers are forced to adjust their consumption pattern as a coping strategy because they bear the burden of balancing the global supply and demand. The FAO averred that in order to compete on world markets, developing countries and people thereof will need sufficient income, which makes the overall economic growth an integral part of achieving a resilient and stable food security system. Thus, because of the eminent threat of the fall armyworm to food security in Nigeria and South Africa in particular, there is a need for an holistic approach through the implementation of an integrated control programme, especially to focus on the control of plants and plant products at the points of entry or border in each state and Africa in general. This may be addressed through relevant international organisations and their specialised agencies that focus on food and nutrition, science and technology, and socio-economic development, as mentioned above.

For Africa in general to ensure a hunger-free continent, there is a need to address some of the fall-out effects of climate change that go beyond the interplay of El Nino and La Nina. Breeding of insects that were hitherto unknown as a result of increase in temperature is a time bomb that could lead to the total failure of food production, distribution and consumption in Nigeria and South Africa, the areas of our focus. South Africa was able to control the menace of armyworms in 2016 because of the availability of an early warning mechanism it had in place, but the same was not possible in Nigeria because of the lesser focus on food production in that country. The rate at which the fall armyworm procreates is a major concern, as is the fact that it knows no border. Concerted effort must be taken at sub-regional and regional levels by empowering various organisations to address the problem. Through the neo-liberal approach of complex interdependency, coming together will contribute towards achieving Goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which, by implication, will promote other goals such as the end to poverty, ensuring health among peoples, sustainable economic growth, reduction of inequality and promotion of a balanced ecosystem. United we must stand--for doing it all alone will have little or no result.


(1.) L. Amusan and O. Olutola, 'Contexualising African Women's Empowerment in Agriculture: Challenges from Climate Change and Mineral Extraction Perspectives', Journal of International Womens Studies, vol 18, no 4 (2017), pp. 117-30.

(2.) S.S. Mugambiwa and H.M. Tirivangasi, 'Climate change: A threat towards achieving "Sustainable Development Goal number two" (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture) in South Africa', Jamba: Journal of Disaster Risk Studies, vol 9, no 1 (2016), p.350.

(3.) J.S. Terblanche, M. Karsten, K.A. Mitchell, M.G. Barton and P Gibert, 'Physiological Variation of Insects in Agriculture Landscapes: Potential Impacts of Climate Change', in C. Bjorkman and P Niemela (eds), Climate Change and Insect Pests (Boston, 2015), p.93.

(4.) R.O. Keohane and J.S. Nye, 'International Interdependence and Integration', in PR. Viotti and M.V. Kauppi (eds), International Relations Theory: realism, pluralism, globalism (New York, 1987), pp. 361-78.

(5.) G. Goergen, PL. Kumar, S.B. Sankung A. Togola and M. Tamo, 'First Report of Outbreaks of the 'Fall Armyworm' Spodoptera frugiperda on the African Continent (J E Smith) (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae), a New Alien Invasive Pest in West and Central Africa', PLoS ONE 11(10), 2016, (e0165632. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0165632). Also see P Abrahams, T. Beale, M. Cock, N. Corniani, N. Day, J. Godwin, S. Murphy, G. Richards and J. Vos, 'Fall Armyworm Status. Impacts and control options in Africa: Preliminary Evidence Note', 2017, pp. 1-2.

(6.) Abrahams et al, op cit.

(7.) I. Maiga, M. Ndiaye, S. Gagare, G. Oumarou and S. Oumarou, The Fall Armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda, the new maize pest in West Africa, Special Bulletin, AGRHYMET Regional Centre, 2017.

(8.) ACAPS Thematic Report, Armyworm outbreak in Africa, 23 Mar 2017.

(9.) FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation), Climate change and food security: risks and responses (2016).

(10.) R. Vargas Hill, 'Using stated preferences and beliefs to identify the impact of risk on poor households', in Journal of Development Studies, vol 45, no 2 (2009), pp. 151-71.

In both Nigeria and South Africa, climate change is impacting on food availability for their rural dwellers. In addition, many areas in both that hardly experienced malaria are now battling with the ailment because of mosquitoes' ability to survive in warmer conditions. The same applies to the invasion of destructive insects. Previously unknown in the two countries, fall armyworms are now destroying cereal plants, soybeans and millet. Although South Africa's early warning strategy and government intervention saved many farmers from colossal loss, the same was not the case in Nigeria where 22 out of 36 states were affected between 2016 and 2017.

Prof Lere Amusan lectures in politics and international relations at North West University, South Africa ( Seyi Olelekan Olawuyi is a member of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension, University of Fort Hare, South Africa.

Caption: Areas affected by Fall Armyworms (as of March 2017)

Caption: Fall armyworm
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Author:Amusan, Lere; Olawuyi, Seyi Olelekan
Publication:New Zealand International Review
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Mar 1, 2018
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