Armyworms force a meeting of Southern Africa’s regional body

Fearing low yield in maize, because of an outbreak of the fall armyworm in Southern Africa, the regional body has called for an emergency meeting, which will begin on Valentine’s Day.

There are concerns that if something was not done to stop the pest, fall armyworm, it could worsen the food problem in Africa; the region is currently grappling with drought challenges. Apart from maize, the fall armyworm can attack sorghum, millet and wheat.

“Southern Africa is currently facing serious threats posed by diverse transboundary pests and diseases, including the varied armyworms, locusts, the tomato leaf minor and maize lethal necrosis disease’’, said David Phiri, sub-regional coordinator for the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

He also said that ‘‘preliminary reports indicate possible presence (of the pest) in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has positively identified the presence of the pest while the rest are expected to release test results soon’’.

South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), the agency responsible for overseeing the agricultural sector of the biggest country in the region, independently confirmed the presence of the pest in the country.

“Now that there is a positive identification, DAFF will continue with assessment of spread and damage, awareness actions to provide farmers with accurate technical information and control options’’, said Bomikazi Molapo, spokesperson for DAFF.

The fall armyworm is alien to the continent and it is believed to have originated from the Americas. Last year, the pest attacked maize in West Africa, Nigeria.

FAO, Southern Africa Development Committee, and the International Red Locust Control Organisation for Central and Southern Africa will organise the emergency meeting of stakeholders in the region, it will take place in Harare from the February 14 to 16.