Armyworm invading SA is a major threat to global agriculture

Feb 07 2017 07:46
and Fin24

Cape Town - The fall armyworms that have ravaged maize fields from Ghana to South Africa since arriving on the continent last year could spread to Asia and the Mediterranean, a research body said.

Infestations of the pest that arrived from the Americas last year have been confirmed in Ghana, the Oxfordshire, UK-based Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International said.

South Africa also verified on February 3 that the caterpillars have arrived in the continent’s biggest producer of maize, a staple, after they travelled from Zambia through Zimbabwe. There are reports that they’ve also reach Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

“It can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within a few years,” the organisation said in an e-mailed statement on Monday. The fall armyworm “could spread to tropical Asia and the Mediterranean in the next few years, becoming a major threat to agricultural trade worldwide.”

The caterpillars that get their name from the large numbers that invade fields and eat the leaves and stems are probably more dangerous than the native African armyworm, and their introduction will pose a lasting threat to crops on the continent, according to a paper published in October by scientists including Georg Goergen. The pest can devastate corn fields, risking production of the staple food in a region that’s emerging from its worst drought in more than 35 years.

South African Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana briefed the media on the detection of the fall armyworm on Monday. This, after the department received a diagnostic report from the Agricultural Research Council, Plant Protection Research Institute (ARC PPRI) to confirm that the fall armyworm was positively identified from samples collected in the Limpopo Province.

Control difficult

“If the pest damage aggravates, it could dampen prospects for good crop harvests that are anticipated in the current farming season,” the FAO said on February 3 in an e-mailed statement. “The pest is known to cause extensive crop losses of up to 73% depending on existing conditions and is difficult to control with a single type of pesticide.”

South Africa is yet to determine the extent of crop damage, said South African Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana on Monday in Pretoria.

The Agricultural Business Chamber said last month that the country could increase its maize crop to at least 11.9 million metric tonnes this year from 7.5 million tonnes in 2016.

“Southern Africa is reeling from the effects of two consecutive years of El Nino-induced drought that affected over 40 million people, reduced food availability by 15 percent and caused a cereal deficit of 9 million tonnes,”  explained FAO.

“The pest is known to cause extensive crop losses of up to 73% depending on existing conditions and is difficult to control with a single type of pesticide, especially when it has reached an advanced larval development stage,” it said.

FAO, in partnership with the Southern African Development Committee and the International Red Locust Control Organisation for Central and Southern Africa, is organising an Emergency Regional Meeting of key stakeholders from 14 to 16 February 2017 in Harare, Zimbabwe.

“The countries need to maintain and, where needed, expand diagnostic laboratory, surveillance and response capacity as well as conduct assessments and research to enable rapid responses to recurrent and new threats”, said David Phiri, FAO Subregional Coordinator for southern Africa.

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maize  |  armyworm  |  agriculture



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