Tiny Invader Threatens Food Staple in Africa

Fall armyworm is wiping out maize crops
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 12, 2017 4:00 PM CST

(Newser) – Still reeling from a severe drought, Zimbabwe is now on the brink of going hungry as an invasive pest wreaks havoc on the staple crop maize. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reports that seven of the country's eight provinces have been hit by the fall armyworm, and as much as 70% of crops have already been destroyed in some regions. The pest, native to the Americas, can lay six generations of 50 eggs in one location, hide in the stems of plants to go undetected, and then destroy crops with the thoroughness of a swarm of locusts, reports CNN. It is believed to have arrived in Africa on imported produce.

The invasive species was first discovered last year, though is sometimes confused with the native African armyworm, which is doing its own damage. Preliminary investigations suggest it is spreading quickly across Africa, with reports also surfacing in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Ghana. The result is growing concern not only about the livelihood of farms, but of the continent's food security, reports the BBC. "Urgent action will be needed to prevent devastating losses," says one scientist, who cautions Asia could be next. (Bacteria could help fight this invader.)

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