THE Limpopo Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has warned local farmers to be vigilant following the yet another invasion by devastating Fall Army Worm.
The department spokesperson Selby Makgotho said: “The Limpopo Department of Agriculture and Rural Development wishes to acknowledge that farmers and other stakeholders in the Limpopo Province have been reporting incidents of Fall Army Worm (FAW) in certain areas in all the districts of the Province, with Capricorn and Sekhukhune having the least reported incidents.”
Makgotho said that Vhembe district had the highest reported cases compared to other areas and that they have deployed officials to assist in the affected areas.
“In this current maize planting season, farmers and other stakeholders from affected areas such as Mutale, Matangari, Thohoyandou, Mashamba, Virani in the Vhembe district, Lulekani, Nwamitwa and Hoedspruit in the Mopani district, Thabazimbi, Bela Bela, Mookgopong, Mokgalakwena in the Waterberg District, Polokwane in the Capricorn district and Groblersdal in the Sekhukhune district started reporting FAW incidences which were confirmed by local Agricultural Technicians and monitoring trap catches placed in some of these areas.
“Affected farmers are therefore advised to report FAW incidences to their Local Agricultural Offices immediately for assistance with identification, confirmation and management of the pest,” said Makgotho.
The maize grazing worm, first hit the province last year causing havoc within local farming sectors. Makgotho said that the worm was one of the exotic pest with its origins from Central America and that it moths had the ability to fly thousands of kilometres within a short period of time depending on the direction of the wind.
According to a statement released last year by the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU), Farmers were calling for an urgent regional action to help control the infestation of the Fall Armyworm in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
“Media reports indicate the worm has been identified in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and possibly more countries in the region.
“Staple crops such as maize, sorghum, wheat, soya beans, groundnuts and potatoes have been attacked.
“Farmers are encouraged to regularly inspect their crops for eggs and spray pesticides straight after detection,” said the federation.
The federation also encouraged farmers to communicate with each other in order to find ways to deal with the outbreak.
“Pyrethroid class insecticides and carbaryl material can be used as control regulators; however, it is better to control the worm in its early stage due to its ability to build resilience against pesticides. We believe that remedial methods should be integrated and informed by expert advice from farmers based in the worm’s native counties because unlike us, they have dealt with the pest for many years,” warned the federation.
What are armyworms, where do they come from and how do they travel?
Armyworms are the caterpillar stage of moths belonging mainly to the genus Spodoptera. They are called armyworms because when they have ravaged a crop they march along the ground like a vast army of worms in search of more food. There are at least eight countries in southern Africa that have been hit by outbreaks of armyworms.
This sequence of outbreaks began in mid- December 2016 and has spread rapidly ever since. It is now as far south as South Africa. Because armyworms feed on many of the staple food crops they have the potential to create food shortages in the region.
The recent outbreaks in southern Africa appear to be a combination of the native African armyworm and a new invasive species called the Fall armyworm. This new species is endemic to tropical and subtropical regions of Central and South America, where it causes considerable damage to maize and other crops.
The Fall armyworm was first formally identified as being on the continent as recently as January 2016 in West Africa, including Nigeria and its neighbours.
It is unclear how it reached Africa from the Americas but it’s likely it arrived on imported plants. It’s also possible that it migrated across the Atlantic on favourable winds over multiple generations.
It is not yet known whether the recent outbreaks in southern Africa are derived from the earlier West African ones. But Fall armyworms are known to be strong migrants in the Americas.
Every year Fall armyworms fly from Mexico and the southern states of the US to Canada.
What makes them so devastating?
Both African and Fall armyworms do most damage to the staple cereal crops such as maize, wheat, sorghum, millet and rice. They also eat pasture grasses which has an impact on livestock production.
The African armyworm – they can be 3cm long – can reach densities as intense as 1000 caterpillars per square metre, quickly razing crops to the ground. On maize, the number of caterpillars per plant is, of course, much lower but it can cause just as much of an impact.
The insects strip the leaves of even mature maize plants bare.
Unlike their African cousins, the Fall armyworm also feeds on a range of non-cereal crops.
Nearly 100 different host plant species have been recorded. These include cotton, soybeans, groundnut, peanut, potato, sweet potato, spinach, tomato, sweet peppers, cabbage and tobacco. Damage to maize is likely to have the biggest impact on farmers in southern Africa because it’s the main staple food crop in the region.
The impact of the Fall armyworm is likely to be devastating because it eats the leaves of the plant as well as its reproductive parts. This damages or destroys the maize cob itself. – Source: The Conversation Africa