South Africa Receives Unconfirmed Reports of Alien Armyworms

  • Pest has already spread across Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi
  • Outbreak threatens corn output as region recovers from drought

South Africa, the continent’s biggest corn producer, has received reports that suggest fall armyworms, which have invaded neighbouring countries and devastated crops, may have spread across its borders, according to the government.

“We received a number of reports,” Jan Hendrik Venter, an official at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said by e-mail. “Samples were collected and I am waiting for a proper identification.”

The fall armyworm that’s native to the Americas was first reported in West Africa a year ago, and has spread to countries including Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi, ravaging fields of corn just as the region tries to recover from its worst drought in more than 35 years. While the African armyworm is common to the continent, its relative from the Americas will probably become more damaging to corn crops, according to a study by scientists including Georg Goergen published in October.

Already, the pest that gets its name from how it marauds in thousands and destroys fields is threatening food production in southern Africa, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network has said.

“The capacity of national authorities to sufficiently control the outbreak and respond to the situation has been slow and could result in serious crop damages,” it said.

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