Radio Communications Empower Smallholders to Combat the Fall Armyworm

September 12, 2017
Priscilla Addison, USAID/Ghana

Farming is the way of life and main source of income in Ghana’s Ashanti, Northern and Brong Ahafo Regions. In mid-2016, the first infestation of fall armyworm was noted in the area and its presence has been a cause of grave concern. Its impact has been seen nation-wide across Ghana’s agriculture sector, including in some of the most vulnerable populations, and is threatening to overturn progress toward a food-secure future. To combat this pest, the U.S. Government’s Feed the Future initiative is using radio as a powerful medium to equip smallholder farmers with the knowledge and information needed to fight fall armyworm.

Although originally from the western hemisphere, the fall armyworm has crossed international borders and is now a global, agricultural pest. It begins its life as a tiny egg born from an adult moth that then hatches into larvae. The pest possesses a voracious appetite for leafy green crops like maize, rice, soybean and other legumes. In Ghana, and other West African countries, the fall armyworm is known to cause significant damage to farms in a very short-time, undermining agricultural productivity and the livelihoods of rural farmers.

Feed the Future’s Agricultural Development and Value Chain Enhancement (ADVANCE) project, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is harnessing the power of mass communication through radio to respond to this emergency situation. As the majority of people in Ghana get their information from radio, ADVANCE is using radio to educate farmers on pest management to enable them to adapt their agricultural practices accordingly and thrive.  

Together with the Government of Ghana and other development partners, ADVANCE launched a radio campaign to create awareness and teach millions of farmers to recognize, monitor and control the fall armyworm. Radio jingles were translated into nine local languages and broadcasted nationwide to encourage farmers to routinely walk through and inspect their maize farms in search of early warning signs, such as small holes on leaves of crops. Aired five times a day over one week, the radio jingles are inspiring smallholder farmers across Ghana to take initiative and adapt agricultural practices to address any immediate threat.

Through radio broadcasts and mobile voice messaging, an alert system was developed in various districts for farmers to notify government agricultural extension officers as soon as pests are detected. Farmers and agricultural extension officers also received trainings on early detection of the pest, how to set pheromone traps and how to safely apply approved pesticides by experts from the Farmer-to-Farmer program. Together, the new system and skillsets helped monitor and mitigate the infestation. Over 700 individuals have been trained to provide spraying services to farmers to date. Telephone hotlines advertised via public posters are used as an alternative crisis intervention tool to promote early identification of the pest and encourage farmers to phone in and ask questions or receive technical advice on how to safely combat the pest.

Radio communications have served as an invaluable medium for pest control and prevention in order to safeguard agricultural development and food security in Ghana.  David Yanful, a Ghanaian farmer whose field had once been attacked by the fall armyworm, attributes his success to the integrated pest management practices he learned from Feed the Future. "I was able to identify the problem in its initial stages and learned to carefully apply pesticide to fight the infestation. I can proudly say my crops were saved and are still standing strong for the upcoming harvest."

Thanks to Feed the Future, farmers like David Yanful, are better prepared to take action against the fall armyworm and safeguard the main source of their livelihoods.