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Economy

Farmers face losses after worm invasion

Army worm attack: The caterpillar is native to North and South America, though it has already spread to parts of Africa. file photo | nmg
Army worm attack: The caterpillar is native to North and South America, though it has already spread to parts of Africa. file photo | nmg 

Cereal farmers in the North Rift region have expressed fears of losses from invasions by the crop-eating caterpillars known as fall armyworms.

Several counties in the region are racing against time to contain the spread of the deadly pests that have invaded farms, with agricultural experts warning that it is likely to result in a national disaster unless quick action is taken to combat the outbreak.

The pest found its way into the country from Uganda after it was reported in Ghana and South Africa due to climate change and farmers are encouraged to spray their farms with chemicals which they claim are costly.

The fall armyworms was first reported in North and South America.

In Kenya, it has destroyed several hectares of crops in Kitale, Bungoma, Kakamega, Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Busia, Nandi, Kericho, Baringo and Nakuru counties. On March 23, the Agriculture Principal Secretary issued an alert on the outbreak to all county directors.

Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization director general Dr Eliud Kireger said infestation of the armyworm was first reported in Trans Nzoia County last month on an off-season maize crop.

He said the worm occurs in large numbers and its larvae - caterpillars - cause severe damage to more than 80 plant species including maize, sorghum, rice, millet, wheat and barley.

In March, Uganda confirmed that the caterpillars had attacked crops on farms in about 20 districts in the country.

In Kenya, the attacks could further affect agricultural output in a country where a drought has left 2.7 million people needing food aid after low rainfall in October and November.

This has pushed inflation to a 57-month high of 1028 per cent on costly food, especially staple maize flour.

The caterpillar is native to North and South America, though it has already spread to other parts of Africa including Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and Democratic Republic of Congo.

The United Nations fears it could reach Asia and the Mediterranean in the next few years.

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