Maize consumption per capita in southern Africa. (Photo/ rnjacobs/FAO)

Armyworm Invasion Hits Southern Africa, Just As The Region Is Recovering From Drought

AN armyworm invasion is the last thing southern Africa needs right now. The region is just recovering from two consecutive years of El-Nino induced drought that affected over 40 million people, and reduced food availability by 15%, according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

It was the worst drought in 35 years, and as it often happens, poor households were hit much harder.

Now, a fall armyworm outbreak, the first time the pest is being seen in southern Africa, is threatening prospects for good crop harvests that the region has been anticipating.

Maize, a staple food in the region has been the most affected, as well as other cereals including sorghum, millet and wheat.

Armyworms are of the Spodoptera genus, the highly destructive caterpillar version of a family of moths. (Photo/ Flickr/ USGS)

The FAO Subregional Coordinator for southern Africa, David Phiri, said that the situation was constantly evolving.

“The situation remains fluid. Preliminary reports indicate possible presence (of the pest) in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has positively identified the presence of the pest while the rest are expected to release test results soon,” he said.

Armyworms are a dreaded pest in Africa; their name comes from the way they can march upon the land and devour everything in sight. They are known to destroy up to 90% of crops in the field.

This particular variety, the fall armyworm, is native to South America, and is more destructive than its African cousin. It is believed to have come to Africa through grain imports.

In Zambia, President Edgar Lungu has even called in the country’s military to help contain the outbreak, according to reports.

Military planes are flying pesticides to the worst-affected areas so that crops can be sprayed as a matter of urgency, the presidents spokesman Amos Chanda.

They are devouring crops in six of Zambia’s 10 provinces; approximately 130,000 hectares of cropland are affected.

The FAO is to hold an emergency meeting in Harare between 14 and 16 February to decide emergency responses to the threat.

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