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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East Africa – Graft in Rail Investment

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Investigations into fraud and embezzlement are opened in one of Africa’s oldest railways.

An investigation, which has attracted the attention of the World Bank, suggests that Qalaa Holdings, which took over Rift Valley Railways (RVR) intending to revamp the rail link, has been involved in numerous questionable dealings. The World Bank has opened investigations into RVR, which manages the railway from Kampala to Mombasa in Kenya.

For many years one of the most importance rail routes in Africa has suffered neglect and underinvestment, until Qalaa Holdings, one of the biggest African private equity funds, sought to invest in the service.

An investigation by journalists from the UK, Belgium and Kenya under Finance Uncovered has obtained leaked documents and conducted interviews with rail staff. They noted that the company had created an offshore structure of shell companies to extract millions in advisory fees from RVR. The World Banks’ integrity unit has also opened investigations into fraud and embezzlement.

At the same time a parallel railway line, built by the Chinese, is set to open soon, which will be more efficient that the older line and is expected to absorb customers and profits, hampering more RVR’s already bad financial situation.

The British started the construction of the Kenya-Uganda railway in 1896, intended to secure Lake Victoria from German, Belgian and French colonial expansion. It later became known as the ‘Lunatic Express’ after many thousands died and millions were spent on its construction.

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Tororo, Uganda – CC 2010

In 2010 Qalaa Holdings, an Egypt based fund, took over through an offshore holding, Ambiance Ventures. In the subsequent year the company managed to secure US$287m in investments from a number of sources including the World Bank ($22m), the African Development Bank (AfDB) ($40m), and a number of others.

One central investment has been in new rolling stock, for which $63m was allocated for 20 “brand new” locomotives. However the journalists discovered that no new locomotives were purchased at all, instead they were purchased second-hand and refurbished from US-based National Railway Equipment Company (NREC). In total 20 locomotives were received for $20m rather than the stipulated $63m.

Regarding freight services, Chief Executive of the Kenya Ships Agents Association Juma Ali Tellah has said that many distributors have lost faith in the railways’ ability to transport containers; a blow as much of the railway’s income comes from freight.

“There are too many delays both in the port and during transportation…the skippers never know when their containers will reach destination. It’s not surprising that only a fraction of freight is transported by rail,” Tellah said.

Even though it currently has a monopoly, RVR has struggled to make profits under Qalaa’s management; in 2014 it reported losses of $1.5m. Despite not making a profit Qalaa has collected $4.7m of advisory fees from Africa Railways Limited, the investment vehicle of RVR registered in the British Virgin Islands. The firm has also paid very little corporation tax, and despite getting millions from state-backed development banks, many of its investments are managed through these offshore shell companies; while these corporate structures are not illegal, the investment will not fully benefit the home countries.

(The Observer, Kampala 22/6)

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

ROADS AND RAILWAYS: East Africa
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.53, Issue.5, Pp.21292B–21293C

ROADS AND RAILWAYS: Rwanda – Tanzania
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.53, Issue.4, Pp.21255A–21255C

ROADS AND RAILWAYS: Kenya
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.52, Issue.12, Pp.21112A–21112C

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today.