Forget alien armyworms, Africa’s maize may face a bigger threat
Pest control organisation warns that red locusts, which are 10 times worse than the caterpillars, must be stopped or there ‘will not be anything to harvest’
Johannesburg/Lusaka — Locusts breeding in central Zambia may pose a bigger threat to farmers in southern Africa than the fall armyworm that has ravaged crops this year, according to an organisation that combats the pests.
Red locusts had already reached densities of as much as 50/m² over 76,000ha in an area known as the Kafue Flats, Moses Okhoba, director of the International Red Locust Control Organisation for Central and Southern Africa, said in an interview late on Tuesday. If uncontrolled, they could form swarms of 40-million insects, destroying maize fields in their way.
"If you had an outbreak of locusts, the situation will be about 10 times worse when compared to when you had fall armyworms," Okhoba said in Harare. "You do not want to see a swarm of locusts in your field because then you will not be talking of anything to harvest or to see."
Southern African countries, including Zambia, Zimbabwe and SA, are already battling an outbreak of crop-eating caterpillars that arrived from the Americas last year. Locust swarms would be yet another setback for growers in the region, which is still recovering from the worst drought in more than 35 years. While hoppers, or larvae, had infested only 1,600ha of crop fields, they must be immediately stopped from expanding further, said Okhoba.
A swarm of 40-million insects could eat 80,000 tonnes and travel anywhere between 20km and 100km a day, depending on winds, he said, speaking on the sidelines of a regional emergency meeting to combat pests. Most farmers in southern Africa grow maize, the staple food in the region.
"At the moment the locusts are breeding in Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique," said Okhoba. "Outbreaks from these areas, depending on the period, can affect countries all around the region."
Zambian President Edgar Lungu already instructed the treasury to release funds to the International Red Locust Control Organisation to complete surveying and start spraying pesticides to prevent an outbreak.