MAPUTO– Mozambique has reported crop losses of 50 to 60 per cent as a result of the infestation of the Fall armyworm, a pest which is actually the larval stage of a moth, in the areas it has infested, says Antonia Vaz, head of the Plant Health Department in the Ministry of Agriculture.

The pest, which originates from the Americas and which was reported in Africa about three years ago, appeared for the first time in Mozambique last year, and Vaz said here Thursday that the authorities faced enormous difficulties in combating it.

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 Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM), Domingos Cugala, said 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 Organization (FAO), said the impact of the pest is not yet alarming. The maize planted in the first sowing last year, escaped largely unscathed but the second crop this year is 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 Province in the central region (46 per cent losses).

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