Tunnel vision or timely intervention? Interrogating the fall armyworm as crisis in Malawi

Authors: Stephanie Enloe*, Cornell University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Development, Food Systems
Keywords: Political ecology, Malawi, pest management, new Green Revolution
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 2:25 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Plaza Court 4, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The arrival of the fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) in sub-Saharan Africa has been met with great concern by African governments, international development actors, private industry, and university researchers. A growing discourse describes this crop pest as a “menace” that threatens food security and livelihoods across the continent. Expressed fears of impending food shortages underpin a coordinated international response to help African farmers monitor and control the fall armyworm. In Malawi, government and development actors have expended significant resources to inform farmers about the fall armyworm and provide them with chemical pesticides. Yet interviews with farmers in northern Malawi reveal they are less concerned about the fall armyworm than other agricultural pests that have not received the same level of attention. To better understand and explain how off-farm actors are responding to the insect, this paper casts a critical lens on the emerging discourse on the fall armyworm in Malawi. It draws on the field of political ecology to illuminate how the fall armyworm has been cast as an environmental disaster threatening smallholders, arguing that this framing is part of a broader productivist approach to food security that forestalls discussion of the structural drivers of hunger in Malawi or the potential for farmer knowledge systems to generate pest management solutions.

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