African pest raises hunger threat

A ravenous worm that -in adult form- can fly up to 100 km at night is spreading rapidly across Africa. It is threatening food production and the livelihoods of millions of farmers already struggling with conflicts and drought.

The larvae of the fall armyworm prefers maize, but can feed on more than 80 plant species, including rice, sorghum, millet, sugarcane, vegetable crops and cotton, said the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization.

“There are roughly 35 million hectares of maize planted per year in Africa and if the worm is not in all those maize fields now, it will be very soon. In the next planting season or so.” This was said by Allan Hruska, principal technical coordinator at the FAO.

Those fields are tended by some 30 million smallholder farmers who depend on maize for food and income. A specialist told Reuters that the fall armyworm poses a great challenge to the survival of agriculture in Africa. The invasive species, native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, was first detected in Central and Western Africa in early 2016.

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