Lusaka - An outbreak of fall armyworms that has attacked corn plants may spread to sugarcane in the KwaZulu-Natal province, where a warm climate would help the pest survive through the year, the Agricultural Research Council said.
The alien pest,
confirmed in South Africa this month, has
already spread to all nine provinces including eastern KwaZulu-Natal,
where the bulk of cane is grown in the nation. There aren’t yet any
reports of infestations, Roger Price, a manager at the Pretoria-based
ARC, said in an emailed reply to questions on Thursday.
“We are very concerned that fall armyworms will get into the
sugarcane along the KwaZulu-Natal coast, where it could persist in the
warmer climatic conditions,” he said. “My personal view is that the vast
bulk of the commercial maize crop has not been damaged and that
national food security is not currently at risk.”
The armyworms, which arrived in west Africa from the Americas early
in 2016, spread south through Zambia and Zimbabwe before arriving in
Africa’s biggest producer of corn, the region’s staple food. There are
reports of the pest in Greyton, KwaZulu-Natal, about 70 kilometres north east of the coastal area where sugarcane is grown, Price
Temperatures along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline are generally higher
than South Africa’s inland areas because of the warm waters of the
Indian ocean, providing a more conducive climate for the fall armyworm,
which comes from the tropics in the Americas.
It’s difficult to predict what impact an outbreak in KwaZulu-Natal’s
cane fields could have, Carolyn Baker, director of the South African
Sugarcane Research Institute, said in reply to emailed questions.
“We are worried but are somewhat comforted by the fact that the
Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has circulated a
series of responses that can be applied in the event that the armyworm
is detected,” she said. “We are taking the lead from the department at
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