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FAO Red Alert: New species of armyworm in Tanzania

Staff Writer |
THE UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) handed over pheromone traps to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, to support rapid response to a new species of armyworms infestation identified in several regions across the country.

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The fall armyworms associated with the Americas now poses serious food security in areas hit by the destructive pests.

According to the ministry officials (Agriculture), the likely impact of the armyworm on crops and infestations had since been identified in several regions associated with single, or uni-modal rainfall areas such as Songwe, Katavi, Mbeya, Iringa, Njombe, Ruvuma, Lindi, Mtwara, Morogoro and Rukwa regions and in bi-modal (double) rainfall season areas such as Arusha, Manyara, Shinyanga, Kilimanjaro and Tanga.

Speaking at a hand over event in Dar es Salaam, FAO Country Representative, Mr Fred Kafeero said the 216 traps would be used for the surveillance of fall armyworm (FAW) infestation in the country and to determine the gravity of the problem - so as to provide information necessary for designing future interventions.

Mr Kafeero said the traps would serve as 'an initial response' mechanism designed by the FAO, describing it as "...a response to a request that was made to us in June by the ministry's PS."

"Fall armyworm... mostly associated with the Americas, is a new threat in Southern Africa and we are very concerned with the emergence, intensity and spread of the pest.

"It's only a matter of time before most of the region is affected and the costs and implications for food security and livelihoods could be very serious, " he noted.

He explained that the fall armyworm were capable of feeding on more than 80 plant species - including most of the major cereals, maize, rice sorghum, wheat and also vegetables.

Biological invasions like these threaten biodiversity, the functioning of natural and agricultural ecosystems, and ultimately food security. Sub-Saharan Africa is considered to be particularly vulnerable to invasive species due to its high dependence on agriculture.

Usually the expansion of the geographical range of a species is hampered by barriers like oceans and mountain ranges. But an increase in international trade and travel has greatly facilitated biological invasions in recent decades.

The larger grain borer, Prostephanus truncatus, another native of the Americas, was accidentally introduced into Tanzania in the 1970s. The beetle spread rapidly through infested consignments of maize and dried cassava. The species has invaded numerous countries since its first introduction into Africa.

There's disagreement about how the Fall armyworm arrived in Africa. One suggested avenue is that it arrived on foodstuffs imported from the Americas.

This is feasible as insects can readily cross borders with infested plant material. The species has been intercepted on shipments destined for Europe on several occasions.

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