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Mozambique - Fall armyworm causing losses of over 50 per cent

The insect pest known as the fall armyworm (the larval form of the moth Spodoptera frugiperda) has caused crop losses of between 50 and 60 per cent in the areas it has infested, according to Antonia Vaz, head of the plant health department in the Mozambican Ministry of Agriculture.

The pest appeared for the first time in Mozambique last year, and Vaz admitted that the authorities faced enormous difficulties in combating it.

Speaking to a videoconference in Maputo, she said that the armyworm had infested 42,000 hectares of maize, but the situation has now been brought under control on 33,000 hectares. “We are looking at losses of about 50 to 60 per cent of production”, she said. “There is a great effort to control the pest, so that we can help communities avoid food insecurity”.

A researcher at the Agronomy Faculty in the Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM), Domingos Cugala, told the videoconference that the difficulty in controlling the armyworm lies in its enormous resistance to pesticides.

“So chemicals are being tested that are acceptable to human health and to the environment, as well as botanical products”, he said.

The authorities are drawing up a list of chemicals that can be used safely, but in rotation, so that the pest does not develop resistance to any one of them.

Jose Matsinhe, of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said that the impact of the pest is not yet alarming. The maize planted in the first sowings, last year, escaped largely unscathed. But the crops planted in the second sowings, this year, are at greater risk, and could have a more serious social and economic impact.

The areas most affected are Niassa province, in the far north, with 65 per cent losses in the zones hit by the pest, Maputo province in the south (56 per cent losses), and Zambezia in the central region (46 per cent losses).

The fall armyworm is an invasive species native to the Americas. It has now spread to over 30 African countries, where it has caused damage estimated at over 13 billion US dollars.

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