Harare – South Africa is now stockpiling chemicals to fight and eradicate a crippling outbreak of the false armyworm while all Zimbabwean provinces have now been infested with the pest, officials said in Harare on Wednesday.
A summit organised by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation and the Southern African Development Community in Harare this week has brought together experts and government officials from regional countries to find solutions to the plague. A looming outbreak of locusts could also leave the key agriculture sector in the region in limbo.
Emily Munganga of the South African Department ofAgriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said the area of first introduction of the fall armyworm in South Africa has not been determined because of the rapid spread of the disease across major maize-producing areas in the country.
The false armyworm has now been reported as manifest in Gauteng and Mpumalanga, apart from the provinces of Limpopo and the North West where it was initially reported. In South Africa, the pest is also attacking sorghum and sweetcorn apart from the usual attacks on maize varieties.
“The white and yellow varieties of maize have been affected and there have also been attacks on sweetcorn and some sorghum. We are now stockpiling chemicals and we have identified about three chemicals that we will use,” said Munganga.
Zimbabwe has borne the brunt of the latest outbreak of the false armyworm, with officials saying the pest has now infested all of the country’s 10 provinces, while the African armyworm is now active in about three provinces.
Shingi Nyamutukwa, a researcher at the Plant Protection Research Institute in Harare, said most of the 1.3 million hectares of land under maize production in Zimbabwe is now at risk from an armyworm manifestation.
In addition, Zimbabwe is battling another outbreak of the tomato leaf miner pest that has impacted productivity and trade in tomatoes, pushing up tomato prices in the region. Botswana has also been affected by tomato pests.
“About 75% of the farmers recorded aggressive damage on tomatoes. The tomato leaf miner also damaged tobacco, common beans and potatoes,” said Nyamutukwa.
Zimbabwe produces about 334 950 tonnes of tomatoes and this year’s crop is under significant threat, a situation that has led to shortages and high prices.