A massive outbreak of a species of caterpillar called ‘armyworm’ is spreading rapidly in mainland Africa as it destroys vast crop territories. Scientists have said that the pest could spread to other near zones like Asia and the Mediterranean in the upcoming years.

A group of researchers from the Britain-based Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International stated that this is the first time this type of pest is registered in an area that is not the Americas, as they have warned about the expansion of the species in the next few years and the consequences this will bring to the local agriculture markets.

Armyworm. Image credit: Planet Natural.

CABI’s chief scientist, Matthew Cook, has said that this pest likely traveled to Africa “as adults or egg masses on direct commercial flights” as it has been spreading in the continent because of its ability to fly.

The “armyworm” is also known in the United States as the “fall armyworm,” because this particular pest has the tendency to travel during that season. The armyworm has its origin in South and North America and can destroy entire maize crops that could prejudice a country’s agriculture market greatly.

South Africa’s government can’t determine the expansion of the damage

The Agriculture Minister of South Africa said in an official declaration this Monday that the government cannot establish the actual expansion of the pest. Therefore, they are not able to define the impact on the crop fields from the invasion, so it becomes difficult to determine a plan to fight it. South Africa is the largest grain producer on the continent and it is the first time that an invasion of these characteristics affects its fields.

Farmer, Crops
A farmer inspects his crop at his farm. Image credit: The Christian Science Monitor.

“It is difficult in crop production to determine the scale of what you will harvest as that process is informed by a number of other factors including the prevalence of rain … but of course the reason we want to react very quickly is to make sure we minimize the damage if it is possible,” the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister, Senzeni Zokwana, said this Monday during a media conference.

There is a body of countries that could be affected as there are registers of outbreaks in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization stated that the pest has already expanded to Namibia and Mozambique while Cook also stated that there are reports of the pest traveling through Nigeria, Togo, and Benin, which confirms the intensification of the expansion.

These countries could face agricultural bans on their products as the armyworm is considered a “quarantine pest.” The armyworm attacks mainly maize crop fields, but according to recent research, this species can destroy over 100 several plant types like cabbage, rice, sugarcane, beets, and soybeans.

According to Cook, immediate actions must be taken to avoid an agricultural collapse in each country’s economy. He also warned that farmers could face devastating losses and serious debt issues. The South African minister said that he already registered two pesticides for farmers to use in their fields to control the armyworm pest.

Source: Yahoo Finance