South Africa, Zimbabwe confirm presence of pest devastating maize crops

Armyworm, known as "fall armyworm" in the United States due to its tendency to migrate there in autumn, or fall, is native to North and South America and can devastate maize, a staple crop crucial to food security in large parts of Africa. Calling for urgent action, scientists have warned that if the spread of the pest is not controlled soon, it could cause mass starvation in Africa.

Zimbabwe will next week host an emergency meeting called by the Food and Agricultural Organization to shape a coordinated response to the armyworm threat in the region. It has already spread to seven nations, including Zambia, Malawi, Ghana, and South Africa, according to Reuters.

He explained that the Fall Armyworm is new to South Africa and there was no set pesticide at this stage but emphasised that this was being dealt with. Scientists have said that the pest could spread to other near zones like Asia and the Mediterranean in the upcoming years.

While armyworm mainly affects maize, it has also been recorded eating more than 100 different plant species, causing major damage to crops such as rice and sugarcane as well as cabbage, beet and soybeans.

The fall armyworm, so called because it eats its way through most of the vegetation in its way as it marches through crops, is native to North and South America but was identified for the first time in Africa previous year.

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Armyworm is known as the "fall armyworm" in the USA due to its tendency to migrate to the country in autumn. According to Bloomberg, the fall armyworm can destroy about 90% of crops it infests. "Following earlier reports from Nigeria, Togo and Benin, this shows they are clearly spreading very rapidly".

The armyworm outbreak comes at a time when many African countries are grappling with the serious effects of climate change, which has rendered many parts of the continent uncultivable, exposing the population to persistent drought and starvation.

The American armyworm is also harder to detect and eradicate than the African worm. The agriculture minister of South Africa said Monday that the country was working to determine the extent of crop damage.

Though nobody knows how the worm got to Africa, researchers believe it most likely came over through imported produce. That's because it is classified as a quarantine pest. The outbreak could be disastrous for a region emerging from two years of El Nino-induced drought, it said.

  • Toni Ryan