Armyworms could march to SA

2013-01-09 10:16
A horde of African armyworms has invaded Zambian croplands. (Emmanuel Mutamba)

A horde of African armyworms has invaded Zambian croplands. (Emmanuel Mutamba)

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Cape Town - A horde of African armyworms have invaded Zambian croplands and ravaged seven provinces throughout the month of December.

The crop-devastating pest could potentially migrate to neighbouring countries in the south such as Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa depending on wind direction.

African armyworms, Spodoptera exempta, are caterpillars that feed on staple crops including maize, wheat, sorghum, millet, and rice throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

According to the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) information core for Southern African migrant pests a characteristic feature of armyworm outbreaks is their unexpected sudden appearance which has lead to the common name of “mystery worm”.

The worms are greenish or brownish green and grow to about 25mm long. After about thirty days they become moths with the potential to lay up to 400 eggs.

SA faced a “Kommandowurm” infestation in 2003 when four provinces, Kwazulu-Natal, Gauteng, North West and Mpumalanga were affected.

Major outbreaks

ARC programme manager for insect ecology, Dr Roger Price, says that there is a risk of armyworm migration to South Africa and that it all depends on the wind direction. Major outbreaks occur every six to seven years.

“The moths could come down with the wind,” he told News24.

Price says that in the event of an infestation the SA government does not offer pesticides or compensation for farmers. “They will have to fend for themselves,” he said.

Zambian farmer, Annie Mututu, lost all of her maize in one field. “They entered the field at night-time when we were asleep. The next day it was all gone”, she explained.

Zambian vice-president, Dr Guy Scott, who chairs the Zambian Government’s Disasters and Mitigation Committee, responded swiftly to the crisis. 2000 tons of free maize seed worth $5m was made available to affected farmers.

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