Friday, January 23, 2009

Agriculture: Liberia - caterpillar invasion causes 'national emergency'

Huge hordes of ravenous caterpillars have appeared in northern Liberia, destroying crops and vegetation. The Food and Agriculture Organization has described the situation as a national emergency. It has warned that unless something is done quickly to contain the invasion, it will likely escalate into a regional crisis.

Hundreds of thousands of villagers in Liberia have already been affected by an invasion of caterpillars believed to be the worst in 30 years. The caterpillars that have been devouring plants and food crops in the country and, in some cases, even overrunning homes.

Villagers have described the two to three centimeter long caterpillars "black, creeping and hairy". They have been advancing in the tens of millions.

FAO Representative in Liberia Winfred Hammond spoke from Accra about the situation.

"The problem in Liberia is quite alarming," said Hammond. "Sometime last week some caterpillars that were observed on foreign plantations and have moved on to food crops and vegetation as a whole were spreading very fast and was also causing damage not only to crops but contaminating waterways and therefore making it difficult for many villagers and the inhabitants to get access to good drinking water. This is really creating an emergency situation across the country."

Hammond says some 50 villages in northern Liberia are confirmed to have been affected. There are reports that the caterpillars, suspected to be African armyworms, are currently advancing across the border with Guinea.

The FAO fear that the caterpillars could also invade Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. It is assessing the situation with a task force of experts from Ghana and Sierra Leone.

"We are getting Sierra Leone involved in this evaluation and survey which we will extend into Sierra Leone and eventually get into Guinea because if we don't do that we run the risk of having a regional catastrophe," said Hammond.

Hammond said an action plan will be drawn up as quickly as possible with medium and long-term measures. Specimens of the caterpillars have been flown to Accra to be identified so that the most effective type of pesticide can be determined.

Published with the permission of Voice of America
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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