Fall armyworm in South Africa
Scientists are calling for urgent action to halt the spread of a pest that is destroying maize crops and spreading rapidly across Africa. The fall armyworm poses a major threat to food security and agricultural trade, warns the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (Cabi). It says farmers’ livelihoods are at risk as the non-native insect threatens to reach Asia and the Mediterranean. The Food and Agriculture Organization plans emergency talks on the issue.
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 last year. Cabi chief scientist Dr Matthew Cock said: “This invasive species is now a serious pest spreading quickly in tropical Africa and with the potential to spread to Asia. “Urgent action will be needed to prevent devastating losses to crops and farmers’ livelihoods.”
Scientists think the caterpillar or its eggs may have reached the continent through imported produce. Once established in an area, the adult moths can fly large distances and spread rapidly.
Fall armyworm starts attacking SA soya bean crops
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A farm owner shows the armyworm on a leaf of corn crop on a farm in Onderstepoort just north of Pretoria. (Gulshan Khan, AFP)
Johannesburg – The fall armyworm plague, which started marching through South African maize farms in December 2016, has now been found in soya bean crops.This is according to Igni Bouwer, a Laeveld Agrochem agent in the Ermelo area, who says the pest was identified on a soya bean farm in the Dirkiesdorp district between Piet Retief and Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga earlier this week.”So far it seems as if the spread to soya beans in the area is only limited to one farm that has about 250 hectares of soya beans under irrigation,” Bouwer said.This latest development comes after the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) last week founded a pest action group to help combat the spread of the fall armyworm, which threatens to severely impact food crops, especially maize.Since the fall armyworm started moving south in Africa at the beginning of 2016, it has since appeared in Limpopo, Gauteng and Mpumalanga.It has primarily damaged maize crops but Potatoes SA says an isolated case of a potato infestation occurred in the Loskop Valley in Limpopo. According to a CropLife South Africa, the fall armyworm has even been found in sorghum, cotton, some vegetables, probably in groundnuts and in natural veld around maize fields.The pest has since spread to farms in all provinces except the Western Cape, according to the Laeveld Agrochem.Meanwhile, Corné Liebenberg, marketing director at Laeveld Agrochem, said that to control the pest, early detection is essential and specific insecticides must be applied in the early stages of the larvae’s development.“It is very important to stay updated and to only use insecticides that are registered and recently confirmed to be effective against FAW as resistance to even some relatively new active ingredients has appeared. Furthermore, as with all Lepidopteran pests on maize, corrective control after cob and stalk penetration is not possible,” said Liebenberg.
Crop and lawn damage
Damaged maize field