November 9, 2017 / 10:11 AM / a year ago

South Africa controls armyworm pest in maize crops

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa has managed to control an outbreak of fall armyworm pests, which were first detected in January and mainly threatened maize crops, the agriculture minister said on Thursday.

Countries with confirmed outbreaks can face import bans on their agricultural products because armyworm is classified as a quarantine pest. The fall armyworm is an invasive Central American species that is harder to detect and eradicate than its African counterpart.

“It is a serious pest and is officially controlled,” agriculture minister Senzeni Zokwana said in a written response to parliamentary questions.

He said recent winter surveys showed the pest had affected the northern Limpopo province and the lower areas of the Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape provinces to the east of the country. The rest of the country was unaffected.

“Emergency registration of agrochemicals was implemented,” Zokwana said of measures used to kill the worms, but did not say how much damage the pests had caused.

The January outbreak was the first time the pest had been detected in Africa’s biggest grain producer after spreading from neighboring countries.

An economist at the agricultural business chamber, Wandile Sihlobo, said the damage to this year’s harvest was minimal as “people were able to apply the right chemicals.” He was unable to estimate the impact the pests may have had.

South Africa is expected to produce a record maize crop this year of 16.744 million tonnes, largely due to good weather after a drought last year.

Reporting by Wendell Roelf in Cape Town and Tanisha Heiberg in Johannesburg; Editing by James Macharia and Susan Fenton

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