Kenneth Wilson is the man Africa needs, right now. A Lancaster University professor, Wilson is the man who has been studying army worms and everyone is looking up unto him to give a solution to these devastating pests.
For the last 25 years, Prof Wilson has been studying African armyworms and that is when he first studied their migration to Kenya.
It is when he tried to transport some army worms from the fields to a Nairobi laboratory that he found that most of them were dying. If he got to known why they were dying, he thought, that would provide a solution to the menace, he thought.
For years, many researchers had failed to find a solution. He found that the armyworms were susceptible to a virus.
“I got to wondering how armyworms could be such a devastating pest when they seemed so susceptible to this virus,” he told Guardian newspaper, “and I have been studying the interaction between armyworms and their viruses ever since.”
Wilson is currently in Tanzania still trying to find a solution to this problem.
“His research suggested that the obvious solution to any armyworm infestation was to replicate the virus, and employ it as a biological agent in order to eradicate the blight. But this was easier said than done, and his research was anyway focused exclusively on the African armyworm,” the Guardian reported.
And now, Africa has been invaded by fall armyworms since 2016 which are different.
“People are rightly scared about what’s going to happen,” Wilson says.
While the African army worm used to eat maize only, the fall army worm is different. “But the fall armyworm has a much broader host range”– meaning it’ll eat anything – “so potentially can also eat these other crops if maize is not available.”
And they are on the move according to Prof Wilson: “ It’s possible that they will spread from Africa to Southern Europe, and then on to northern Europe and possibly Asia.”
There’s some hope of nailing down an effective pesticide regimen, but that comes with its own problems – poisoning the environment, pollinators, livestock and humans not minor among them. Besides, the fall is resistant to many of the chemicals currently being deployed across the continent.
With this in mind, Wilson and his collaborators have been working on a biopesticide derived from the natural disease that was killing his specimens in Kenya all those years ago.