March of Invading Caterpillars Approaches South African Capital

  • Tests to verify if the pest is fall armyworm almost complete
  • Larvae threaten corn crop in Africa’s biggest producer

Alien armyworms damaging South African cornfields have reached just north of Brits, a town 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Pretoria, the capital, according to a Zoology professor who is studying the outbreak.

“There are some fields north of Brits which are heavily infested,” Johnnie
Van den Berg of North-West University said by e-mail Friday.

While the government is yet to verify that the pests are the fall armyworm, they do appear to be the species, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said this week. The pests arrived in West Africa from the Americas a year ago and have ravaged farms as they rapidly spread down the continent. The larvae, named for the density with which they attack fields, could be disastrous to corn growers in South Africa, the continent’s biggest producer, the department said.

Verification of the invading caterpillars should happen soon, Van den Berg said. “The species identification process is now nearly completed after moths were provided to a taxonomist at the Agricultural Research Council.”

White corn for delivery in March, the most active contract, fell for the first day in three on the South African Futures Exchange. It was down 2.2 percent to 2,905 rand a metric ton ($216) by 11:59 a.m. in Johannesburg.

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