Fall Army Worm identified in Limpopo

The fall armyworm outbreak follows a devastating El Nino-induced drought that scorched much of the region past year, hitting crop output and leaving millions in need of food aid.

The International Association for the Plant Protection Sciences (IAPPS) confirmed the outbreak of False Armyworm in Nigeria in October and warned that the pest spread rapidly, DA shadow agriculture minister Annette Steyn said in a statement. The pest can also cause extensive damage to crops and has a preference for maize, the regional staple.

Preliminary reports have indicated its possible presence in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia, FAO has said.

UN Food and Agriculture Organization has called an emergency meeting from February 14 to 16 in Harare to come up with a response to the threat.

While the worm it is native to North and South America, researchers found it in Africa for the first time a year ago.

The fall armyworm has been also been found in West Africa, according to the worldwide non-profit Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences global (CABI).

One concern is that while South African producers, who use genetically modified seed for some 85% of domestic corn output, have tried and tested methods for the controlling endemic African armyworm, but these may not work on the fall armyworm.

He said the pest was a strong flyer and could be distributed by prevailing winds over large distances. According to Bloomberg, the fall armyworm can destroy about 90% of crops it infests.

CABI's chief scientist, Matthew Cook, has said that this pest likely traveled to Africa "as adults or egg masses on direct commercial flights" as it has been spreading in the continent because of its ability to fly.

Most farmers in the Americas have used chemical treatments to fight armyworm infestations with mixed results, CABI's research posited.

Jacques Prinsloo said they have spent over R60 000 in pesticide in the last week, in an attempt to control the FAW that had spread across their maize and lucerne crop, but nothing seemed to be working.

African nations with confirmed outbreak of the fall armyworm could even face import bans on their agricultural produce. The outbreak comes at a time when most African countries are emerging from their worst drought in nearly four decades.

Departmental spokesperson Bomikazi Molapo said the two pesticides cleared for use are readily available to farmers as they are already in use in the country - though they were not registered for use against the fall armyworm.

  • Joe Gonzales