Scientists say a crop-ravaging caterpillar, called the fall armyworm, is eating its way across Africa and, as Stuart McDill reports, could reach tropical Asia and the Mediterranean in the next few years. Stuart McDill reports.
The tiny caterpillar fuelling big concerns. This fall armyworm was found in Ghana - eating its way through a field of maize. Here it's being prepared for DNA testing at the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International outside London - to prove it has jumped the Atlantic from the Americas to west Africa. Crop protection specialist Dr Janny Vos says the outbreak is deeply worrying. SOUNDBITE (English) CABI AGRONOMIST DR JANNY VOS SAYING: "It came in we think through trade potentially and it loves maize but not only maize also other crops so we are extremely concerned over this problem because maize is the largest grown cereal in sub-Saharan Africa and it's grown by small-holder farmers so their income, their livelihoods and their food security will be at threat if this maize problem is spreading." While it prefers maize, it will eat more than 100 different plants - including rice and other staples… ..and outbreaks can be devastating for farmers. Identifying the exact species just the first step in trying to protect African agriculture from this voracious feeder. SOUNDBITE (English) CABI AGRONOMIST DR JANNY VOS SAYING: "It's extremely difficult to stop this from coming in because with globalisation of trade we bring in goods, and with tourism, we bring in goods and stuff all over the world so it's almost inevitable that things are brought in. What is so difficult is to find it in any consignment. They often come in as an egg mass or as a pupa and they are very, very small and difficult to be noticed. So what is important is to know how it looks like when it comes out and how the damage looks like so that you can react very, very early and we think that window has been missed on this occasion." Scientists now fear fall armyworms could spread to tropical Asia and the Mediterranean within the next few years.