African Nations and Scientists Sound Alarm Over Spread of Crop Pest

An armyworm embedded in African maize.

An armyworm embedded in African maize. CABI

Scientists and government officials are growing increasingly concerned about the rapid spread of fall armyworm — an agricultural pest known to cause major damage to staple crops such as maize — across Africa in recent months. 

Native to North and South America, armyworm, a kind of caterpillar that burrows deep into corncobs and more than 100 other kinds of plants, was detected on the African continent last year. It has already spread to seven nations, including Zambia, Malawi, Ghana, and South Africa, according to Reuters. Armyworms are difficult to control and can “cause extensive crop losses,” the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned earlier this month. The outbreak could be disastrous for a region emerging from two years of El Nino-induced drought, it said. 

Scientists with the Center for Agriculture and Biosciences International, a UK-based non-profit research organization, said Monday that the outbreak could “become a major threat to agricultural trade worldwide,” spreading to the limits of suitable African habitat within a few years and into Asia and the Mediterranean soon after.