FILE: Armyworm feeding on maize cob, which significantly reduces yields. The situation needs to be constantly monitored.
JOHANNESBURG - The Department of Agriculture has confirmed the presence of the invasive Fall Armyworm, which is destroying crops in three maize-producing provinces.
PICTURED: Armyworm feeding on maize cob, which significantly reduces yields. The situation needs to be constantly monitored. CREDIT: Flickr.com/European Commission DG ECHO Follow (©FAO/Lesotho/Lechoko Noko)
Farmers in Limpopo, the North West and Free State had complained of an unknown worm ravaging their crops.
But officials say they had to wait until the caterpillars turned into moths before they could positively identify the pests.
The Department of Agriculture has met with industry players to come up with an action plan.
“If this is Fall Armyworm, it is new to our shores, we know very little about it -- we are relying on literature," said Dr Marinda Visser of Grain SA.
"Our scientists are looking into the lifecycle of this particular pest. We know it is quite devastating. Why? Because the host range is so wide. It does not only accept grains and oil-seed crops. It affects flowers, wild plants, fruit and vegetables.”
PICTURED: File image of African armyworms (Spodoptera exempta) marching along a road. CREDIT: via Wikimedia Commons/ChriKo
There are 31 different species of armyworm. They’re often identified through visual and genetic tests.
It’s believed the American or Fall Armyworm ravaged crops in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
Last year, a crippling drought forced South Africa to import over a million tons of maize, and, struggling farmers can ill afford another setback.
"We heard about this in Nigeria two years ago, we heard about this in Zambia and other SADC countries last year but no one was expecting this to break out," said Verdoorn.
"I am very convinced that between the industry sector who supply the pesticides, the agricultural sector who produce the maize, and the Agriculture Department as regulatory authority, will do the right things to at least bring the pest under control that we don’t lose the major part of our maize crop,” he added.
PICTURED: Armyworms wreaked havoc in this field leaving only stalks. CREDIT: Flickr.com/European Commission DG ECHO Follow (©FAO/Lesotho/Lechoko Noko)
Meanwhile a UN food agency says an outbreak of armyworms has also spread to other southern African countries including Namibia and Mozambique.
Countries with confirmed outbreaks can face import bans on their agricultural products.