via Reuters, KINSHASA – The Crop-destroying moth larvae known as armyworms are reported to be ravaging southern Africa and have now spread north to the Congo. United Nations agencies warn could reach tropical Asia before long.
The armyworms have so far destroyed 63,000 hectares of maize, the main staple food crop, in the southeastern province of Democratic Republic of Congo since December, causing local maize prices to triple, a United Nations, spokeswoman said.
Infeststions have already been reported in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique. The outbreak in Congo is the first evidence the plague has spread into central Africa.
The armyworm, is native to North and South America, it is not known how that parent moth reached Africa as there is little transatlantic agricultural trade. Scientists say the armyworm could reach tropical Asia and the Mediterranean in the next few years.
The appearance of armyworms in West Africa was first noted in January 2016. The larvae have already destroyed crops in Zambia, Zimbabwe and all nine provinces in South Africa, the continent’s biggest producer of the grain.
The 63,000 hectares in southeastern Congo represent 80 per cent of maize production in four territories along the Zambian border, UN spokeswoman Florence Maraca told reporters in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa. This will obviously lead to food shortages in some areas. Already the outbreak has caused scarcity of maize and the price of a 25 kilogramme sack has risen from US$10 to US$30 ($14 to more than $40), she added. The problem is compounded by the fact that Congo’s other main staple crops, bananas and manioc, are simultaneously being ravaged by other maladies and ongoing conflicts.
from Wikipedia: Armyworm moths lay eggs in maize plants and the caterpillars have also been known to march en masse across the landscape. Countries with confirmed outbreaks can also face import bans on agricultural products.
The armyworm whose botanical name is Spodoptera frugiperda can cause an estimated 73-per cent crop failure and resist pesticides if its larvae develop into advanced stages, according to Xinhua.
Prasanna Boddupalli, director of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre’s Global Maize Program, has urged national agricultural research organisations in Africa to develop an integrated pest management system that includes early warning to help farmers combat armyworm invasion effectively to fight the bug.
“We must explore a range of options like use of pesticides and biological pest control methods to limit the damage of army worms on staple crops,” Mr Boddupalli told Xinhua in an interview.