Army worm eats through prof­its

CityPress - - Business - AVANTIKA SEETH busi­ness@city­

South African maize farm­ers face lower prof­its in the com­ing sea­son as they have to spend thou­sands more on pes­ti­cides to fight an army worm in­va­sion.

For­tu­nately for con­sumers, the fears about the im­pact of the army worm in­va­sion haven’t yet in­creased maize and food prices.

The fall army worm, which has in­vaded farms across the coun­try, was dif­fi­cult and ex­pen­sive to con­trol, said the UN Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion (FAO), and was al­ready caus­ing ex­ten­sive dam­age to food crops, mainly maize.

Adel Prinsloo, who has a maize farm in On­der­stepoort, north Pre­to­ria, said she first dis­cov­ered the pres­ence of the worm on her farm about four weeks ago, and she has had what seems like a los­ing bat­tle against the pest since then.

“In the last three weeks, I have spent about R50 000 to­wards pur­chas­ing pes­ti­cides, and even that doesn’t work against the worm,” Prinsloo said.

On av­er­age, over a three to four­month pe­riod, Prinsloo would or­di­narliy spend about R30 000.

Corne Louw, a Grain South Africa econ­o­mist, said that the big­gest loss be­ing suf­fered was the money be­ing spent by farm­ers on an ex­tra spray­ing pro­gramme.

“This will put them un­der se­vere fi­nan­cial strain as this ex­tra cost can­not be given through to the mar­ket and the pro­ducer must ab­sorb it,” Louw added.

A spray­ing pro­gramme has been im­ple­mented by farm­ers as a con­tin­gency plan to con­trol the out­break of the worm.

“The worm has spread quickly, but pro­duc­ers are us­ing rec­om­mended spray­ing pro­grammes when the worms are iden­ti­fied in their crops,” Louw said.

She said the ex­tent of the dam­age would only be known when the crop grew and got har­vested.

Turn­ing to the maize price, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Farm­wise Grains Jan­nie van Heer­den said that at this stage there had not been a sig­nif­i­cant change in the prices of maize fu­tures on the JSE as re­sult of the army worm in­va­sion.

“As far as I am aware, the sit­u­a­tion is not wide­spread and be­cause of this we haven’t seen a change in the prices,” Van Heer­den said.

The threat posed by the army worms led to an emer­gency meet­ing this week with ex­perts from six­teen east and south­ern African coun­tries in at­ten­dance in Harare, Zim­babwe.

They iden­ti­fied gaps in the re­gion’s early warn­ing sys­tems, re­sponse, pre­pared­ness, con­tin­gency plan­ning in­clud­ing in­for­ma­tion dis­sem­i­na­tion and ef­fec­tive re­gional co­or­di­na­tion,” the UN FAO said.

While South Africa is still not able to pro­vide a fig­ure on the dam­age that has been caused to crops, in par­tic­u­lar maize crops which the army worm prefers, re­ports com­ing in from other African coun­tries paint a bleak pic­ture of what is to be ex­pected should the mat­ter not be con­tained.

“Zam­bia has re­ported that al­most 90 000 hectares of maize have been af­fected, forc­ing farm­ers to re­plant their crops. In Malawi about 17 000 hectares have been af­fected while in Namibia, ap­prox­i­mately 50 000 hectares of maize and mil­let have been dam­aged and in Zim­babwe up to 130 000 hectares could be af­fected thus far,” the UN FAO said.

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