Army Worms Effect-Food Prices Soar in District Affected By Caterpillar Invasion in Bong County

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Zota District, Bong County-There is an unprecedented rise in the prices of commodity in Zota, a district in Bong County affected by army worm invasion. The worms, also known as caterpillars, last week invaded farmland in a town called Shenpuha, south of the district, destroying crops and vegetables.

Selma Lomax, FPA Staff Writer

Zota District, Bong County-There is an unprecedented rise in the prices of commodity in Zota, a district in Bong County affected by army worm invasion. The worms, also known as caterpillars, last week invaded farmland in a town called Shenpuha, south of the district, destroying crops and vegetables.

 

Citizens of the district are blaming the hike in prices to the caterpillars’ invasion. The district’s Commissioner, Alfred Kpolun, recalled that residents of the town experienced similar situation in 2008 during the first outbreak of the caterpillar.

For example, a cup of rice that was sold for LD 20 is now sold for LD 30, depending who you buy from. The situation, according to Commissioner Kpolun, could exacerbate if nothing is done to remedy the situation.  Continuing, he added: “The situation is making life miserable for us now. The only option we as citizens have is to walk long distances to seek food,” he added.

Zota Farmers’ Union Cry out

The Zota District Farmers’ Union (ZDFU) is appealing to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s government to provide pesticides and other resources so farmers in the district can combat a plague of army worms that are threatening the district’s food security.  

Joshua Peters, head of ZDFU, said farmers could lose their crops and pastures if quick action is not taken to fight the infestation.

“The situation is very serious.  It has affected most of our crops and farmlands areas.   A majority of the farmers who are affected are small-scale farmers who produce more than 90 per cent of crops,” he said.

He said, although the army worms are a rare occurrence in the district, the unusually hot June temperatures in that part of the district might have created an environment conducive for their breeding.

He said the farmers’ union has been advising farmers in the district on the type of pesticides to use in controlling the caterpillars.  But, Peters said not all farmers have the financial means to purchase the recommended pesticides.

Peters said the Liberian government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, has increased efforts to help farmers control the pests. “They are giving out pesticides to farmers who can afford it so that they can spray, and there also plans to see how some of the farmers could replant their crops,” Peters said.

He said the farmers’ union has advised farmers to increase inspection of their fields for army worms and to alert their agriculture extension officers as soon as they detect caterpillar infestations in their fields.

Army worm trap installed in Zota

The Ministry of Agriculture has installed armyworm traps in selected in areas affected by the Army worm invasion for early detection of the pests during this farming season.

The ministry’s local Agriculture Coordinator, Monica Honoree, said that 17 army worm traps have been installed in various agriculture camps to help extension officers to detect infestation during this farming season.

“The armyworm traps act as an early warning system, these traps have been installed in various farming areas, when we catch three or four armyworms, then we know that we are going to have an invasion of the pests,” Honoree said.

She said armyworm traps are important devices, which enable agriculture extension officers to prepare adequately to prevent invasion of crops by the pests.

Miss Honoree also said Government has procured pesticides to combat armyworms and the region is adequately prepared to prevent invasion of crops by the pests. She also said agriculture extension officers have embarked on sensitizing farmers on how to combat armyworms and how they can protect their crops from being infested.

The Bong Agriculture Coordinator said it is important for the district to prepare adequately for army worm invasion because the pests are destructive and pose a threat to national food security. She also said the distribution of farm inputs under the farmers input support program is progressing well.

In Shenpuha, Honoree said the worms had destroyed at least 100 hectares of land containing vegetables and crops.

Honoree said they were first noticed in the area on June 18, he said, but added that ongoing spraying had ensured they would not spread further. “We have put measures in place to ensure that these destructive worms do not spread all over the district.  Our officers have moved in to control them with spray chemicals,” said Honoree.

Zota district is largely semi-arid and produces a variety of crops, and farmers also keep livestock as their economic mainstay.

District Commissioner sends plea to farmers

Mr. Kpolun, in an interview with a local Radio Station in the county appealed to farmers in the district to report any presence of the worms in their farms to avoid further destruction to crops.

He led a team of technicians from the Agriculture Ministry in spraying insecticides to contain the worms. Kpolun said he first noticed the black worms on his four-acre crop farm on last week Wednesday morning.

The worms appeared to be only targeting crops, which was recently planted, and grass. Kpulun assured farmers that the government had enough resources and would contain the situation.

Cool weather slows army worm advances

Following rains, armyworms marched in and devoured improved pastures and wheat throughout the district. But the worst may be over — or not — according to Honoree

They say producers could see another flush of armyworms depending on the weather. “Conditions are improving, but the biggest problems we do have right now are the cooler weather – as far as forage production goes — and then the onset of armyworms,” said Honoree.

Honoree noted that armyworms are relatively easy to control if they’re detected early. When the worms are large, they are hard to control.

“One of the problems we are having this year is that there seems to be several hatches occurring in the same area, so all the worms are not the same age,” she said. “That may present a problem when you go in to control them; you may have to spray multiple times.”

According to the Bong County Agriculture Coordinator cooler weather has slowed the maturation of the current armyworm population and reduced the likelihood of them becoming adults and laying more eggs.

“However, we could still have moths migrating in from southern areas that are currently depositing eggs, so additional worm populations could develop,” he said. “For these reasons, warm weather could prolong the armyworm threat. Usually cooler weather in June puts a halt to armyworm problems, but that’s weeks away.”

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