Maize farms under attack in Benue
– Otukpo monarch loses 12 hectares – farmers may re-plough farms for other crops
Maize farmers in Benue State are presently facing tough times as inadequate rainfall and army worms ravage their farms.
Our correspondent in the state reports that many maize farms across the three senatorial districts of the state have already been destroyed by the twin challenges. State chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Comrade Aondongu Saaku, has decried the plight of maize farmers in the state, noting that the pest infestation had defied all chemicals applied to halt the destruction. Saaku expressed worry that maize farmers across the 23 local government areas of the state were presently affected by the same unfortunate fate as the army worms continue to spread, devouring and devastating germinating plants. “There are high levels of army worm infestation in all 23 LGAs. As we speak, the paramount traditional ruler of Otukpo, the Och’ Otukpo, has lost over 12 hectares of maize farm to the devastating army worms. “I’m worried that peasant farmers are suffering. We are doing our best. But, we are yet to arrive at a good chemical which can take care of the (army worm) infestation,” he said. The AFAN chairman added that lack of enough rainfall since the wet season began contributed to the magnitude of the infestation on maize farms including other crops. A large-scale farmer in the state, Vitalis Tarnongo, also expressed worry that his farm had been taken over by army worms despite application of best agronomy practices. Tarnongo, whose four hectares of maize farm, situated in different spaces at the premises of Federal University Agriculture in Makurdi (FUAM) were ruined, blamed inadequate rainfall for the situation. He has, however, concluded plans to re-plough the field as the maize that was already flowering had stunted and may bear nothing despite all the precautions taken to avoid such losses. “My maize farm is four hectares in size. Sadly, there hasn’t been enough rain, so it’s not doing fine. As you can see, the entire farm is affected by drought and the maize plants are stunted. Besides, army worms took over the farm because of lack of rain. I applied chemical about two or three times but there was no rain so it stunted the growth of the crop. “I want to re-plough the field and plant new crop. I have already spent about, N220,000 in cultivating each hectare and a total of N880,000 for the four hectares at this stage with an initial expectation to harvest between 70 and 80 bags of 100kg from each of the hectares. But as it is now, the entire farm can’t give me even one bag, meaning that my money has gone to waste,” he lamented. Tarnongo’s consolation, however, remained the fact that the farm was insured and that he had informed his insurance company of the development and was awaiting them to enable him turn the field and replant it with maize or soybean. He explained that from the onset, he fought the army worms by applying good but expensive chemicals at the right time to ensure the maize was free of infestation, stressing, that he also applied bio-fertiliser and also took precaution to file soil at the bottom of the crops so as to retain moisture, yet the outcome was bad. Other farmers in Makurdi area of the state such as Kingsley Ojobo and Maria Adeke corroborated the experience of Tarnongo as they, in separate interviews with our correspondent, said their first set of maize planted in April did not germinate at all and that they re-ploughed but the plants were still affected – stunted or infested by army worms. The story is also not different in Otukpo and Gboko areas of the state where some farmers complained that there was not enough rain to enable their maize do well. Speaking on the problem, the Chief Operation Farm Officer of Teryima Nigeria Limited, Engr. Baka Msughter, said maize production in the state for this year’s rainy season has failed as nearly all farms faced devastation. He said that would affect food security in the state. He said maize production was done in two phases – dry and wet seasons – in the state, but that the wet season circle had failed and since not all the farmers are engaged in planting maize during the dry season, the situation will affect food production. “It is a problem that has affected all the crops planted between April and May this year. Because of the drought, there was no moisture in the soil to enable the plants to germinate. I will from this experience, therefore, advise the state government to develop farming zones where there are facilities such as those for irrigation to boost harvest. “The government can even open up, resuscitate or revive farming zones in the state which were established during the administration of late former Governor Aper Aku. The state government can use the opportunity to salvage what is left of the facilities in those old farming zones which had been vandalised. “The state government can take over these facilities, lease them out to farmers who would be willing to cultivate crops all year round to minimise their losses instead of relying on unpredictable rainfall,” he posited. Msughter further noted that with irrigation facilities in place, the application of bio-fertiliser on farm produce would be easier to provide moisture for plants, adding that the establishment of farming zones would also help monitor the Anchor Grower Programme and educate farmers on best practices. A Seed Systems Principal Investigator at Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi (FUAM), Teryima Iorlamen, also said the challenge of army worms on maize farms this season was worsened by drought. He explained that, “when rains are not consistent, the insects come out. There is however a chemical known as Ampligo – a Sygenta product – which is expensive but works. One sachet is required in one sprayer but many of it would be needed to cover a large farm. A sachet cost about N1,500 and that of course is not affordable for peasant farmers. “We advise farmers to spray the chemical at the flag rib right inside the plant to kill the pest. It should be done early in the morning or in the evening because the insects don’t come out in the afternoon. “They can use another good chemical mixed with karat to dispel the worms. In maize, they should pump their field from the first day or four weeks. Beyond that, they can’t do anything to salvage the situation.” Iorlamen, however, recommended that affected farmers re-plough their fields and plant again where the damage is too much and cannot be redeemed.