HARARE – A pest devastating maize crops is spreading rapidly in Africa, with South Africa and Zimbabwe confirming its presence on Tuesday.

The fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) has been detected in South Africa’s northern Limpopo province, the South African Government News Agency quoted Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana as saying.

Godfrey Chikwenhere from Zimbabwe’s Agriculture Ministry told dpa that the pest had been observed in the country since late December.

Originating in the Americas, the fall armyworm was first reported in Africa in Sao Tome and Principe in January 2016, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

 

Preliminary reports have indicated its possible presence in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia, FAO has said.

The fall armyworm has been also been found in West Africa, according to the international non-profit Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI).

The centre warned that it could spread to Asia and the Mediterranean within a few years, becoming “a major threat to agricultural trade worldwide.”

The fall armyworm eats its way through crops, especially maize, which is the staple food in many African countries.

The pest is spreading in southern Africa as the region is still reeling from the effects of a two-year drought that affected more than 40 million people, according to UN figures.

“By mid-January, it had spread to all provinces, and maize is the most affected crop” in Zimbabwe, Chikwenhere said.

Africa News Agency