Armyworms in Africa

Armyworms in Africa

Farmers in Limpopo, South Africa, have complained of an unknown worm ravaging their crops. The Department of Agriculture has confirmed the presence of Fall Armyworm, which is destroying crops in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Will the insect cause food insecurity in Southern Africa?

 Farmers in Limpopo, South Africa, have complained of an unknown worm ravaging their crops. The Department of Agriculture has confirmed the presence of Fall Armyworm, which is destroying crops in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. UN food agency says an outbreak of armyworms has also spread to other southern African countries including Namibia and Mozambique.

Comment

  • There are 31 different species of armyworm. They’re often identified through visual and lab tests. Officials had to wait until the caterpillars turned into moths before they could positively identify the pests.
  • The armyworm moths lay eggs in maize plants. The caterpillars have been known to march en masse across the landscape - hence the name, armyworm. They have been known to destroy 90% of the Maize crop in fields they infest.

Analysis

  • Countries with confirmed outbreaks can face export bans on agricultural products because the armyworm is classified as a quarantine pest.
  • Food security is of concern in Africa, as the infestation has hit the region after last year’s drought. Millions of tons of maize was imported due to the drought.
  • The moths can fly large distances. The wider spread it becomes, the more difficult it becomes to contain it. This calls for immediate action. Army planes are being used in Zambia to spray affected areas with pesticides.

Assessment

Coupled with drought, the infestation by armyworms in the African regions is of concern. Poorer countries like Malawi who are heavily dependent on such crops could be severely damaged by the spread of the worm. The possibility of armyworms migrating onto other crops such as sugarcane, rice, oat or wheat have severe implications on the food security of Southern Africa.

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