War report: fighting armyworms

Video transcript

Professor Ken Wilson, Lancaster University
African armyworm is a major crop pest throughout the whole of sub-Saharan Africa but particularly on the eastern side of the continent.

Video shows Professor Wilson in the car

It’s December 21, everybody is getting ready for Christmas, and I am on my way to the airport to catch a flight to Zambia to assess the food security crisis caused by armyworms.

Video shows Professor Wilson at the airport and on his flight to Zambia

I am at Manchester airport on the way to Zambia. I’ve got a busy couple of days ahead of me. What I am hoping to do is to visit some farmers who have been affected by armyworm, and assess the impact on food security, I am going to collect some armyworm samples to take back to the UK for analysis, and if all goes to plan I hope to meet with the Vice President of the country to discuss the armyworm situation and what can be done about it going forward and the role that biopesticides might play in the future.

Car journey

We have had a lot of them here just anywhere you see, the armyworms yeah the armyworms.

Video shows armyworms on eaten crops

So Donald, tell us about this area.

Donald, African farmer
Basically, this whole land was green but the outbreak of these armyworms physically they are amazing grazers and they’ve turn the whole land which was green to almost bare, which is the way it is looking now. If you had come 4 or 5 days ago when it was all green like all the leafs are covered by these armyworms.

Video shows a comparison of an unaffected and affected crops

Professor Ken Wilson
This is what the crop should look like. Next door, however, it is not so good.

Video shows Professor Wilson back in his office

African armworms are subject to a number of different parasites, including parasitic wasps, fungi and importantly from our point of view a bacterium virus SpexNPV. Now what we wanted to do during the BBSRC-funded project was to try to understand what levels of virus we see in the natural environment in the natural outbreaks of armyworms, how variable that was, to try to understand why it was variable and importantly how we can use that variation in the incidents of virus disease to better target our control efforts against armyworms using SpexNPV as a biological control agent. So we are now at a point where we have the capacity to produce the SpexNPV in large amounts and we can do that in Africa itself. We now have a processing plant for doing that processing of the dead caterpillars that we have. This is a new processing plant that has been built in Wolbachia, which is ruled by Crop Biosciences and the building was funded by the Department for International Development. So we feel that if we can get produce sufficient virus that we can control and target those source populations in Kenya and Tanzania, we can have a significant impact on the development of those outbreaks and stop further outbreaks not only in Kenya and Tanzania but also in those neighbouring countries.



This video may be reproduced in its entirety with due credit to BBSRC.

All media (c) BBSRC unless otherwise stated.

Image and video credits:

  • Video shot by Professor Kenneth Wilson from Lancaster University
  • Infected armyworm (c) Ken Wilson
  • Larva collection (c) Wifred Mushobi
  • Music ‘Zambezi Trail’ Cinephonix

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