The Agriculture ministry requires an additional Sh320 million emergency funding to combat crop-eating caterpillars known as fall armyworms that are ravaging maize fields, further threatening food security.
The government had set aside Sh100 million to tackle the fall armyworm following reports that it had invaded farms from neighbouring Uganda.
“We have requested the Treasury to allocate us an additional Sh320 million because the fall armyworm invasion is bigger than initially thought,” said Clement Muyesu, the assistant director of Agriculture.
The funds will help smallholder farmers access identified pesticides amid concerns on lack money or expertise to use insecticides effectively.
The worms, which breed fast and can migrate 100 kilometres a day, were first reported in Kenya in mid-January.
Among counties that have been invaded are Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Nakuru, Busia and Bungoma, with the pests mainly attacking maize.
These are agricultural rich counties and a widespread attack could aggravate the ongoing food crisis that has seen prices skyrocket.
Kenya is suffering from a drought that has left about 2.7 million people in need of food aid and driven up inflation to a near-five year high.
“The rainfall was better this season so we all expected a very good harvest. The outbreak of fall armyworm undermines what we expected would be a different story,” Mulila Mitti said by phone from Nairobi, where the FAO is meeting to discuss the infestation.
Some countries with confirmed outbreaks have faced bans on exporting their agricultural products.
Experts currently meeting in Nairobi said spotting the pest early —when it is still a larva – was key to prevention.
“We need to put in place effective surveillance systems and respond in time to confirmed outbreaks,” Gabriel Rugalema, FAO country representative in Kenya, said in a statement.
The experts warn that unless the spread of the fall armyworm is contained, the attack is likely to result to a humanitarian crisis as the crop basket is at risk.
“It is all about communicating with the smallholder farmers and dispensing with formalities. We need to move as quickly as possible,” said Joe DeVries the Vice President at Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)
The experts from African governments, agricultural research organisations, NGOs, national plant protection organisations and donor agencies are currently meeting in Nairobi to develop a continental management plan on the fall armyworm pest.
The caterpillar can fly long distances, leading the United Nations to fear it could reach Asia and the Mediterranean in the next few years.