Crop-eating worms yet to be identified

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Helvy Shaanika
Ongwediva – The Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) says the crop-eating caterpillars that are destroying crops – mainly maize and pearl millet in the north-central and northeastern regions – are yet to be properly identified.

According to MAWF permanent secretary Percy Misika, farmers from Omusati, Ohangwena, Kavango East and Kavango West regions have reported an outbreak of various types of caterpillars, but the worms have not yet been scientifically identified.

She said MWAF is deploying a team of entomologists to the affected areas to carry out detailed inspections so as to assess the damage and identify the actual types of caterpillars:

“These pest species are well known to pose a serious threat to food security since they cause mass destruction to cereal crops in a short period of time.

“The caterpillars are a highly polyphagous pest species (able to feed on various kinds of food) and whenever they infest crop fields, they initially feed on the fresh and soft leaves of young plants, after which they within a few days migrate upwards onto older plants, where they devour the soft tissues on the leaf edges, except the veins and midrib and cobs.”

Misika further added that caterpillars are attacking cereal crops, especially maize and pearl millet, in the affected areas.

They were detected by farmers, but the farmers were not able to identify them to confirm whether they are American bollworms or army worms, contrary to what was reported in the local papers.

Earlier this week, chief of agronomy at AgriBusDev Julia Nambili told New Era that the massive government irrigation project in Omusati Region was severely affected by pests identified as American bollworms.

Nambili said at least 120 hectares of maize had gone to waste as it was totally destroyed by the pests, with no hope of recovery.

MWAF thus advised farmers to avoid the further spread of the caterpillars through the use of pesticides and by digging deep trenches around their fields to stop caterpillars from moving in or out of their fields into or from the adjacent fields or vice versa.

In case of low pest population and in case of farmers with relatively small plots, the hand-picking of caterpillars is advised.

“The ministry through the Plant Health Division and the regional extension offices is availing pesticides, spraying machinery and equipment to control the spread of the caterpillars in the affected areas. In addition, the ministry is availing extension staff to assist with the spraying of affected fields.

“The farmers in affected areas are requested to assist government officials who are being assigned to assist in the control of the outbreak in their communities. For other new infestations, farmers are requested to immediately report those cases to the nearest extension offices in their respective regions,” she advised.

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