Armyworms invade fields

HARARE - There are fears that Zimbabwe’s maize harvest could be completely wiped out by an invasion of armyworms, so named because they eat most vegetation in their way.

Maize is a staple crop in Zimbabwe and any threat to the harvest could push the country further into food insecurity.

This comes as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has said up to 4,5 million people, half of Zimbabwe’s drought-stricken rural population, will need aid by next March.

The worms — which are actually caterpillars — are among the world’s most destructive agricultural pests.

It is one the southern African country’s worst infestation of armyworm in years.

Neighbouring Zambia, which has also been affected, has been carrying out aerial spraying against the insects.

Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development minister Joseph Made said government has mobilised chemicals.

“So, we are on full alert on that particular aspect. Obviously, once the outbreak is there everybody has got to play their part,” Made told a news conference in Bulawayo.

“But the first people who play a part are the farmers and the extension people. It is a notifiable pest and we immediately move in to control as a country.  And once we have an armyworm we must also be alert on the locusts as well because these pests and insects are kind of interrelated.”

He said agricultural production was at serious risk if the pests — which are currently reaching the pupa stage — were not brought under control.

“When you see the worm already grown, it is a little bit too late to control it. It becomes a bit difficult but we must tell our farmers to scout and there are certain traps that we have already put in order to trap the worm in its moth form,” he said.

These moths can reproduce quickly, laying up to 1 000 eggs within a week which grow into caterpillars within days, he said.

Creeks and rivers — which some villages rely on for drinking water — have been polluted by the massive amount of faeces from the insects, which are eating vital crops.

Experts from Zimbabwe’s agricultural extension service, Agritex, are helping efforts to control the swarm, which analysts suggest may be the result of an unusually wet rainy season this year.

The invasion began in Matabeleland North before spreading into neighbouring areas and threatening villages across the country.

With each female laying between 500 and 1 000 eggs, the caterpillars (of the genus Spodoptera) can devour an entire crop in a matter of days once they reach maturity. They grow up to 5cm in length.

Comments (1)

this is the payback from the spirits against Gushungo.....Mugabe will only leave a legacy of debilitating disease and starvation...#getridofzanupf

mark - 11 January 2017

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