(Adds details, recasts)
By Umberto Bacchi
ROME, April 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The fall
armyworm - which decimates fields as it marches ever forward -
has spread to Angola as the caterpillar eats its way through
southern Africa, a U.N. agency said.
With Angola the latest country affected, only Lesotho and
island nations in the region have escaped the pest, which
devours crops in its path, U.N. officials said. Its spread has
undermined hopes for a better harvest this year, they added,
with swathes of southern, eastern and western Africa infested.
"Now even Angola has confirmed (an outbreak)," said Joyce
Mulila Mitti, a crop production and protection officer at the
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.
In a statement, the FAO said it carried out a joint mission
with the government that detected the caterpillar in four
municipalities of the southern province of Huila, one of the
country's main maize producing areas.
Another pest, known as the maize stem borer, was found in a
Overall, more than 19,000 hectares of maize, millet and
sorghum crops were devastated, causing about $1.8 million in
damages, it said, with small and medium size farmers affected
Native to North and South America, the caterpillar was first
detected in Western Africa in 2016 and has since spread across
sub-Saharan Africa, ravaging maize and other cereal crops.
In southern Africa, the invasion follows an El Nino-induced
drought that scorched the region last year, leaving millions in
need of food aid.
"The rainfall was better this season so we all expected a
very good harvest. The outbreak of fall armyworm undermines what
we expected would be a different story," Mulila Mitti said by
phone from Nairobi, where the FAO is meeting to discuss the
Some countries with confirmed outbreaks have faced bans on
exporting their agricultural products.
Over the past two months, the armyworm reached Kenya and
Ethiopia, in eastern Africa, threatening to further affect food
security in a region already struggling with widespread drought
Small farmers often lack money or expertise to use
pesticides effectively, said Mulila Mitti.
Experts in Nairobi said spotting the pest early - when it is
still a larva - was key to prevention.
"We need to put in place effective surveillance systems and
respond in time to confirmed outbreaks," Gabriel Rugalema, FAO
country representative in Kenya, said in a statement.
The caterpillar can fly long distances, leading the United
Nations to fear it could reach Asia and the Mediterranean in the
next few years.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Lyndsay
Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate
change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)