Knowledge for a sustainable world

David Grzywacz


A large number of extensive outbreaks of African armyworm, ravaged Zambia throughout December 2012, affecting 59 000 farmers and causing a national emergency. Hundreds of resource-poor farmers lost their entire crops.

Expert in the biological control of insects, David Grzywacz, of the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), in collaboration with Lancaster University, is providing support to Crop Biosciences Ltd, a private enterprise in Tanzania, who are developing a naturally occurring specific disease of the armyworm to function as a biological pesticide (biopesticide) they have named SpexNPV.

Armyworms are large caterpillars found throughout Sub-Saharan Africa that like to eat staple crops such as maize, wheat, sorghum, millet and rice. It is possible for a farmer to lose 100% of their crop to the pests.

The situation in Zambia is very serious, and is exacerbated by the fact that the armyworm caterpillars infesting the fields will soon develop into migratory adult moths and fly on to start fresh outbreaks in new areas inside Zambia and beyond. Besides Zambia, similar outbreaks have also appeared in Tanzania, Malawi and Zimbabwe, and if left unchecked could spread more widely over Eastern and Southern Africa.

Professor Kenneth Wilson of Lancaster University recently met the Vice-President of Zambia, Dr Scott, on behalf of the project, and advised him on further measures to mitigate the armyworm crisis. Professor Wilson also introduced to him the environmentally-safe biopesticide SpexNPV.

The on-going research and development of new armyworm control and forecasting systems, funded by the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), has recently culminated in the construction of a new biopesticide processing facility in Arusha, northern Tanzania. Production of SpexNPV should begin in early 2013, with a registered product for sale following soon after.

David Grzywacz said: "Africa needs a new, effective and safe tool to combat this recurrent scourge that destroys African food crops. The development of local capacity in Africa to produce this biopesticide will be a great help to the farmers of Zambia, Tanzania and other affected countries in Africa"

Photo credit: Emmanuel Mutamba, Armyworm in Zambia