An army worm outbreak threatens to worsen food security in Zimbabwe, where close to 1.6 million people already face food shortages ahead of the March harvest.
According to the Plant Protection Research Institute, the crop-eating caterpillar could spread further as "moist winds blowing into Zimbabwe from the north may bring more moths that will develop into army worm and trigger fresh outbreaks of the pest".
Godfrey Chikwenhere, who heads the institute and is the government’s chief entomologist, said the rapid spread of army worm moths has made it difficult to contain the outbreak. “They originate in countries such as Zambia, Uganda and even Tanzania and are blown into the country when strong, moist winds bring rain. More rainfall brings more moths and, ultimately, fresh outbreaks.”
The outbreak has so far hit five of the country’s eight farming provinces. It is reported to have destroyed hundreds of hectares of the staple maize crop in Mashonaland Central, Mashonaland West and Manicaland, the country’s top food-producing provinces. Midlands and Matabeleland North provinces have also been affected.
Chikwenhere says the government has enough carbaryl, the chemical used to contain the pest. But a senior official in the agricultural ministry, who wishes to remain anonymous, says there is a shortage of the pesticide.
This year’s yield was already expected to be significantly reduced due to the late onset of rains.
Widespread army worm outbreaks were reported in December in Zambia, where they affected nearly 60,000 farmers before being brought under control by spraying, according to the International Red Locust Control Organization for Central and Southern Africa (IRLCO-CSA). Smaller outbreaks have also been reported in Botswana and Malawi.