KIGALI – Rwanda said on Friday crop-devouring caterpillars known as fall armyworms had damaged 17 percent of its maize crop and the military had joined the fight to halt their spread.
The pest is native to the Americas but has spread to African countries including Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.
Kenya is investigating a possible outbreak.
The worms' presence in Rwanda was confirmed in early March. Telesphore Ndabamenye, head of crop production and food security at the Rwanda Agriculture Board, told Reuters the pests had damaged about 10,600 hectares of maize crop out a total 63,000.
“Rwanda is a small country ... we risk seeing this pest spread to all maize farms,” he said.
Troops were on Friday picking the worms off maize in fields.
“All our soldiers countrywide are trying to help clear these caterpillars off farms," Rwandan army spokesman, René Ngendahimana, told Reuters.
The central African country produced about 900,000 metric tons of maize last year.
The plague of fall armyworms has fuelled worries that some farmers could be left with nothing.
“We used to plant yams or potatoes but now the order is: plant only maize," farmer Bernard Bimenyimana, 56, told Reuters.
"You dare to plant other crops, the government uproots them.