Outbreak of armyworm in SA's northern neighbours threatens food supplies. Picture: SUPPLIED
Outbreak of armyworm in SA's northern neighbours threatens food supplies. Picture: SUPPLIED

South African farmers are preparing to battle a possible alien armyworm invasion after reports of the maize-destroying caterpillars in three provinces, a farmers’ organisation says.

Grain SA expects to receive confirmation from the government by the end of the week to verify whether samples collected in the Limpopo, North West and Free State provinces are fall armyworms, Marinda Visser, a manager at its research and policy centre, said by phone on Monday.

In the meantime, farmers are preparing their defences and SA will probably be more effective at controlling the pest than others in the region, she said.

The fall armyworm that is native to the Americas was first reported in West Africa a year ago and has spread rapidly through the continent, ravaging crops in countries including Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. The outbreak threatens food security in southern Africa, which is recovering from the crippling El Nino-triggered drought — the worst in more than 35 years — even as most areas have received heavy rainfall since the start of the growing season in November.

SA is the continent’s biggest producer of maize, which is a staple in most countries in the region.

"Our response time is much faster — I think we caught it right at the beginning," Visser said. "We are all systems ready to go as soon as there is confirmation. We will nip this in the bud very quickly."

Grain SA, the biggest representative of maize farmers in SA, has already started talks with major chemical suppliers to determine the best pesticides to use to fight any fall armyworm outbreak, she said.

In Zambia, where the caterpillars invaded more than 10% of the country’s planted area, the government got the air force to help distribute chemicals.


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