New pest hits maize farmers
AFTER southern Africa’s worst drought in more than 35 years ravaged crops and sent food prices soaring, farmers are battling a new crisis: alien army worms. Godwin Mukenani Mwiya first noticed caterpillars chewing through his maize field south of Lusaka, near the end of December. Two weeks later, he’d lost half his crop to the pest that’s already invaded more than 10 percent of farms in Zambia and spread to Zimbabwe and Malawi. The autumn army worm that’s native to the Americas has arrived in southern Africa for the first time, wiping out tens of thousands of acres of maize fields. For a region trying to recover from drought, the pest brings renewed fears of food shortages and inflation. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says the effects could be devastating for the area if its spread is not controlled. “It’s really a national disaster, because as you can see, half of my crop is gone,” said Mwiya, a 56-yearold retired teacher who’s been farming for a decade, as he scanned his ravaged field. About 32 million people in the region with a population of 236 million will be food insecure this year, a UN report said.