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Malawi declares 20 disaster areas after armyworm outbreak

Half of Malawi’s maize had been infected by the crop-munching pest by October, a senior government official said last month.

An armyworm caterpillar eating the kernels of a cob of corn. Picture: AFP

LILONGWE - Malawi, already struggling with flooding from heavy rains, has declared 20 districts disaster areas after infestations of crop-munching fall armyworm threatened food security.

The pest, whose infestation has erupted across Africa including Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, has broken out in 20 of Malawi’s 28 districts, affecting thousands of hectares of farmlands and posing a risk to food security.

“It is clear that we have a serious crop pest infestation that is posing a major threat to food security in the country likely to affect a majority of our fellow citizens,” said the presidency in a statement.

Half of Malawi’s maize has been infected by crop-munching pest by October, a senior government official said during a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation meeting in Johannesburg last month.

Government has rolled out pesticides, installed pheromone traps and intensified training and awareness campaigns to contain the infestation’s spread, which has primarily affected maize, sorghum and millet crops.

Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries, periodically faces severe food shortages as most of its staple maize crop is grown on rain-fed small plots by subsistence farmers. The country has also been hit by flooding which killed six people and displaced over 200 households after two rivers’ banks burst.

Assessments were still underway to establish the number of people still missing, and the extent of damage to property, a spokesperson of the Lilongwe City Council said.

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