Rome – "There are approximately 35 million hectares of corn sown per year in Africa and if (the worm does not) is now in all the corn fields, it will be very soon"  A worm that chews crops that can fly up to 100 km (60 miles) at night is spreading rapidly across Africa, threatening food production and the livelihoods of millions of farmers already struggling with conflict and drought Experts said Friday.  The larval form of the armyworm prefers corn, but can feed on more than 80 species of plants such as rice, sorghum, millet, sugarcane, vegetable crops and cotton, said the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO).
There are approximately 35 million hectares of corn sown per year in Africa and if (the worm does not) is now in all those corn fields, it will be very soon in the next planting season more or less, "said Allan Hruska, FAO's main technical coordinator.
Fields are cared for by about 30 mi According to Hruska,
"The fall armyworm poses a great challenge for the survival of agriculture in Africa", with the potential to put at risk starving hundreds of millions of people, Mark Green, head of the United States Agency for International Development told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a statement.
The invasive species, native to the tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas , was first detected in Central and Western Africa in early 201
now extends to virtually all sub-Saharan Africa, according to an FAO map seen by the T Foundation homson Reuters The female moth can lay up to 1,000 eggs in its life.
In December, Malawi declared 20 of the 28 disaster areas of the districts after a budworm outbreak. In Zimbabwe, the armyworm destroyed 20 percent of the country's corn crop last season, according to government figures, as the country recovered from a devastating drought.
Losses in Africa could range from 8 to 20 million tons in only 12 corn-producing countries only if the pest is not controlled, and could be more severe in areas that are already suffering from drought and conflict, said Ken Wilson, professor of evolutionary ecology at the University of Lancaster in England.
Plants affected by drought are less able to resist pests while conflict can prevent farmers from accessing much-needed aid, he said.
Farmers in the United States use genetically modified plants and advanced pesticides to control pests, but these options can be too expensive and damage the environment and crops.
"(Farmers) can get government pesticides this year, but what will happen next year or the year after?" said Wafaa El Khoury, technical specialist in the International Fund for Agricultural Development (FIDA) in Rome.
Mixing crops and fostering natural predators can be more effective, according to the experience of small farmers in the Americas, said Hruska of FAO.  But Wilson said the presence of the armyworm in Africa is irreversible. "It's here to stay and we have to develop strategies on how best to handle this long-term pest," he said.
(Ros Russell Edition)