An armyworm infestation. Picture: SUPPLIED
An armyworm infestation. Picture: SUPPLIED

Thabazimbi — SA’s agriculture ministry is registering pesticides for use against the fall armyworm in the event that tests confirm the presence of the Central American pest in the country’s maize belt, a spokesperson said on Thursday.

Countries with confirmed outbreaks can face import bans on agricultural products because the armyworm is classified as a quarantine pest that can cause extensive damage to crops and has a preference for maize, the regional staple.

South African authorities expect to make a positive identification within days. The use of pesticides on commercial crops in SA is strictly regulated and legal clarity about what chemicals to use will be required to fight any armyworm outbreak.

"We don’t have any registered pesticides for the fall armyworm because we have never had it here before. We are busy with the registration process now," Bomikazi Molapo, the spokeserson at the agriculture ministry said. Industry sources have raised concerns about there being no pesticides for fall armyworm registered in the country.

A larvae outbreak, which has damaged maize in Limpopo and North West provinces, is "strongly suspected" to be the invasive armyworm that has attacked crops in neighbouring countries, a scientist said on Monday. The infestation of fall armyworms — an invasive Central American species that is harder to detect and eradicate than its African counterpart — has erupted in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi and follows a crippling El Niño-triggered drought that scorched much of the region last year.

Damage in SA has so far been mainly on white maize planted for seed production. Industry group Grain SA said on Thursday that they should only apply pesticides to their crop after consulting representatives of chemical companies.

A drive through parts of the maize growing area in Limpopo by a Reuters journalist this week revealed that some of the crop there was planted early and is almost ready for harvesting, so would not be affected.


Wessel Lemmer, agriculture economist at Absa, discusses whether the potential infiltration of armyworm could devastate maize crops that are just recovering from the recent drought.

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