After more than six years of battling devastating losses caused by armyworms, farmers in Kenya are set to access new pest-resistant maize seeds. This development comes as a ray of hope for many who have struggled with the destructive impact of these pests on their crops and livelihoods.


Maurice Makaa, a small-scale farmer from Makueni County, expressed the challenges faced by farmers due to armyworm infestations. He recounted the frustration of planting crops multiple times only to see them destroyed by the pests, resulting in failed harvests and significant financial setbacks.


The breakthrough in combating armyworms comes with the release of new maize varieties that are resistant to these deadly pests. The Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation, under the leadership of director-general Eliud Kireger, spearheaded the development of these resilient seeds to curb the spread of the invasive armyworms.


The approval of these pest-resistant maize varieties, including FAWTH2001, FAWTH2002, and FAWTH2003, by the National Varieties Release Committee marks a significant milestone in agricultural innovation. However, farmers will have to wait until the short rains season to access these hybrid seeds, as they undergo final approval and production by commercial seed companies.


The impact of armyworms on maize production has been substantial, with an estimated loss of about one million tonnes annually. Farmers across various counties have experienced devastating crop failures due to these pests, leading to food shortages and economic hardships.


The recent launch of agricultural infrastructure worth US$500,000 (Sh62.3 million), funded by donors coordinated by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), aims to bolster farming capabilities. This infrastructure includes essential facilities like seed driers, cold rooms, and water reservoirs for irrigation, supporting farmers in increasing their production capacity.


Prassana Boddupalli, director at CIMMYT, highlighted the collaborative efforts between local and international research organizations in developing armyworm-tolerant maize varieties. These efforts, facilitated through the Plant Health Innovation Platform (PHIP), leverage technology and integrated pest management strategies to combat armyworm infestations effectively.


The introduction of these resilient maize varieties not only offers hope for improved agricultural productivity but also signifies a step forward in mitigating the impacts of pests and climate variability on farming communities in Kenya.