East Africa – Pest Outbreak Threatens Crops

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There are serious concerns over the new armyworm outbreak, which has already ruined large areas of cultivation.

On February 14th international leaders held talks in Harare, Zimbabwe, to tackle the armyworm outbreak, which has spread across several African countries, including Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Ghana.

There have been more recent reports suggesting that Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia may also be seeing outbreaks. The species of ‘fall armyworm’ originates from the Americas and United Nations (UN) FAO coordinator for South Africa, David Phiri, said, “farmers do not know really how to treat it.”

The caterpillars eat maize, wheat, millet and rice, key food sources in southern and eastern Africa. The Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) recently said that it is spreading rapidly and needs an urgent response.

The armyworm name is misleading as the pest is actually a caterpillar, and should not be confused with the African armyworm, which is known in the region. This species originates from the Americas, although no-one is sure how it made it to Africa. It is thought that it could have arrived on a commercial flight or in imported food.

According to the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), it has taken only eight weeks for the pest to spread to six southern African countries. The caterpillar stage does the damage but “it’s the adult moth that migrates long distances and that’s how it’s managed to get round Africa,” said Professor Ken Wilson, an armyworm expert.

“These army worms attack the maize leaves, the flower and even bore into the stalk. And because they dig into the stem of the plant, it is difficult to notice them. It is only on close inspection that you realise almost the entire plant has been destroyed” said Chimenya Phiri, Malawian farmer, reported BBC News on February 14th.


Armyworm – www.phys.org

South Africa’s agriculture ministry said little was known about how the armyworms arrived or what their long-term effects would be; “It may become a migratory pest similarly to the African armyworm and may migrate in large numbers from one area to another, causing great damage,” reported UK-based the Guardian.

“If it is a small level of the worms, it’s easy to control, using pesticides. Otherwise, it’s very difficult to control it, so they will have to use different methods – including sometimes burning the crops,” said Phiri.

Zimbabwe’s Deputy Agriculture Minister Davis Marapira said that the pest had been detected in all of the country’s 10 provinces.

The FAO, which is hosting the Harare meeting, said armyworm outbreaks combined with current locust problems “could be catastrophic” as southern Africa has yet to recover from droughts caused by the El Nino climate phenomenon.

Zambia reported that almost 90,000 hectares of maize have been affected. In Malawi, some 17,000 hectares have so far been affected. In Namibia approximately 50,000 hectares of maize and millet has been damaged, and in Zimbabwe up to 130,000 hectares could be affected.

The FAO said it had initiated the process of procuring pheromone insect lure traps, which are used for capturing armyworm and monitoring their spread.

(© AFP 14/2 2017; PANA, Lusaka 16/2)

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

RWANDA: Food Security Fears
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 1, Pp. 21568A–21568C

Drought and Hunger
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 54, Issue. 1, Pp. 21563A–21563C

Africa’s Pulse – Agriculture Could Be The Key
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 9, Pp. 21424A–21424B.

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