The farmers, frustrated that they have been left to fight the new invaders on their own, without help from the government, have resorted to desperate measures to try save their crop.
Brig. Kasirye Ggwanga, the maverick soldier who was once the political head of neighbouring Mubende district has a 200-acre farm in Nakisunga village in Mukono District which was still safe in April. As always, he has developed a theory about why other farms are under attack.
“When you do research you find that this worm has mostly hit areas where trees have been cut down because the moths fly easily in empty space unlike in our areas which are still forested and the moths are trapped by the trees,” he says.
But Mukono District Agricultural Officer, Steven Mukasa Mabira, reports that the some farmers whose farms are under armyworm siege are resorting to desperate measures. Some are spraying paraffin on the plants.
Others like Moses Nyanzi, who has an acre of maize in Bbuto village Bweyogerere, are using a mixture of Dudu Cyper (which they have been using for the maize stork borer) and paraffin. While the concoction kills the larvae, it also scorches the young maize.
But Ddumba appears to be the most determined. He says when he first realised his maize was under attack from the worm in early March, he immediately dashed to shops in Kampala city’s downtown area called Container Village which is a haven of agro-vet supplies. He was sold an insecticide concentrate called Stryker which is traded by the American company; Control Solutions Inc., and is known to kill a wide array of insects. It is also highly toxic to open water sources, and kills bees.
Ddumba was told to use 20mls of Stryker in 15 litres of water. But it did not kill the worms. Ddumba was possibly not surprised because Uganda does not have an approved directory of approved pesticides and retail outlets, meaning farmers are used at hitting and missing with fake drugs.
So desperate Ddumba hatched a new plan involving a cocktail of Stryker and two acaricides he was familiar with; Dudufenol (also marketed as Dudu Cyper) and Dudu killer (a chemical designed to kill termites and manufactured in neighbouring Kenya). They killed a few worms but not all.
Ddumba was excited when the government finally announced on April 10 that it was joining the fight against the armyworm and the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, and Fisheries (MAAIF) Vincent Ssempijja, announced at a press conference at the Media Centre in Kampala that Shs4.5 billion had been set aside for the task.
The resolve of government appeared to be confirmed as Ssempija was flanked by Lt. Gen. Charles Angina, the Deputy Coordinator of Operation Wealth Creation (OWC); a major government project to alleviate household poverty through agriculture.
When Ssempijja announced three recommended companies to sell drugs; namely Bukoola Chemical Industries, Nsanja Agrochemicals Ltd, and Uganda Crop Care Ltd, he was not adding anything new to the fight. These firms were the ones selling the Stryker, Engeo, and Rocket pesticides the farmers were already gambling with.
Ssempijja also said the Agriculture ministry was procuring emergency pesticides, pheromone traps for pest surveillance and motorised spray pumps, and recruiting 3,000 extension workers.
Ddumba’s shock came, however, when Ssempijja unveiled only 2,460 litres of pesticides to be used by OWC officers for all affected districts. Each district was getting between 100 and 30 litres depending on the number of reported cases.
If, as Ddumba says, each litre sprays about 1.5 acres, the government’s effort was equivalent to using a bucket to put out a farm fire.
Later, the Executive Secretary of the Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFF), Augustine Mwendya, said the government had procured plans another 60,000 litres of pesticide for distribution free of charge to farmers in the affected regions of the country. UNFF is a member of the taskforce which was set up by MAAIF to fight the worm.
But when Ssempijja was asked about the 60,000 litres of pesticide and when they will be distributed to farmers, he sounded cagey and insisted instead that farmers should buy pesticides.
Ddumba says a litre of Stryker goes for Shs32,000 at retail price and the wholesale price is Shs28,000. Since one litre sprays one and a half acres of maize garden, Ddumba who has 12 acres needs eight litres for each spray run. That adds up to Shs224,000 without the labour costs.
But when Minister Ssempijja was launching the official pesticides, he said it advisable to spray twice a day so as to kill the worm and eggs. At that rate Ddumba would be spending close to Shs500,000 for each spray run. Very few farmers can afford that. That means the army worn will continue feasting on their maize at leisure. And the armyworm is a mean eater.