New pest hits maize farm­ers

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS NEWS -

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.

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