Scientists are warning about the threat to farmers in Africa and beyond from a hungry caterpillar that's already spreading fast.
"Pheromone traps will be imported into South Africa to determine the exact extent of the spread and the specific strain of fall armyworm present in South Africa".
As the FAW is a new pest in the country, no pesticides were registered to be used against it. The pest could reach Asia and the Mediterranean in just a few years.
Janny Voss from the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) in the United Kingdom explained the damage being caused. The pest can also cause extensive damage to crops and has a preference for maize, the regional staple.
The UN agency, the Food and Agriculture Organization, will meet in Harare on February 14-16 over an emergency response to the armyworm outbreak. Dr. Matthew Cock, chief scientist at Cabi, said the urgent action was needed to prevent the losses to crops and farmers' livelihoods.
Native to North and South America, armyworm, a kind of caterpillar that burrows deep into corncobs and more than 100 other kinds of plants, was detected on the African continent a year ago.
This pest is originally native to South and Central America and also occurs in the southern states of the U.S. and uses wind currents to travel long distances as it's a good flier.
Armyworms are so named because they sometimes move in large masses from one area to another like an army. This pest is a good flyer and can not be contained in a specific area. The fall armyworm is an invasive Central American species that is harder to detect and eradicate than its African counterpart. Reuters pointed out that the pest has been found in every district of Malawi, where about a third of population already depends on food aid. Cabi scientists are now working to understand how the worm reached Africa, how it spreads, and how farmers in the continent could control its spread in an environmentally friendly manner. "FAW is a quarantine pest for South Africa which has a wide host range and can affect crops such as maize, sorghum, soybeans, groundnuts and potatoes", the department said in a statement. The outbreak comes at a time when most African countries are emerging from their worst drought in nearly four decades.