Liberia: Army Worms Destroys over 2,000 Hectors of Farm in Bong County

NAH KOLLIE: “The latest is that the invasion is spreading quickly than we expected and last week six towns have been affected destroying 2,000 hectares of crops fields”

Zota District, Bong County – Farmers in Bong’s Zota District are set to go through another tough year as the fall armyworms strike the crops again this season. The pests have destroyed 2,000 hectares of crops in the district, spreading to six towns in the last two days, the agriculture coordinator in the county has said.

Report by Selma Lomax, [email protected]

“The latest is that the invasion is spreading quickly than we expected and last week six towns have been affected destroying 2,000 hectares of crops fields,” the agriculture coordinator Kollie Nah said.

Nah said the armyworms have attacked crops in the six towns – and considering the poor rain prospects this will affect the harvest immensely. According to him, the outbreak poses a significant threat to smallholder farmers, mainly maize farmers and has become a threat to food security.

The armyworms are caterpillars that march across the landscape in large groups feasting on young maize plants, wiping out entire fields.

Nah said farmers’ livelihoods are at risks as the non-active insect threatens to reach to more towns and villages.

The fall armyworms were spotted  in the entire Wolapolu Clan, Belefania, Paylele and Kpaquelleh towns. The pests, which were first detected in the district March last year, contributed to the decline in maize production, from over 15,000 bags a year to 8,000, according to the Ministry of Agriculture local office in the county.

Farmers last year spent huge amounts of money fighting the pests with the government stepping in, helping to buy chemical and spray plants. While some succeeded in eliminating the pests that first struck in Kpaquelleh before spreading to other towns in the district, others lost their entire crop.

Farmers had hoped to put tough time behind them, but once again, the Armyworms have started to attack crops, destroying maize production. Majority of the farmers told FrontPage Africa they planted their crops at the onset of the rainy season, and the plants are now about 30cm high.

“I am disappointed with things and this time the pests have started destroying crops so early,” Josiah Flomo, a farmer in Walapolu Clan said on Monday. Flomo planted his maize and beans on June 6, a day after the long rainy season started and the crops have been doing well.

But as the farmer readied to top dress them with Calcium fertilizer mid this month, the pest have struck again. Unlike last year when farmers and agricultural officers in the county took time to report to authorities in the belief that they were fighting ordinary pests, this time a number of them are using several channels including local radio station in the county to raise alarm about the new invasion.

“The Armyworms are back. We thought we had dealt with it has come back again,” Jerry Bowmah, whose parents has a maize farm in Walapolu Clan.

Charles King, a scientist at the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), said that planting the short rains crops give crops the Armyworms a life time as it found a host. “Farmers should not have planted maize again having struggled with the pests for the better of the year. The new maize crop became the host of the pests until this planting season,” King said.

Benson Kolliegboe, a farmer in Kpaquelleh, is among those who planted maize in June because he thought the pests had been eradicated. He harvested 35 bags from his three acres last year, but this year, things may be different as he is among those whose young crops have been attacked.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the armyworms are migratory pests, with the adult pests having a capacity to fly over 30km drifting through air current. “Fall Armyworms are a ferocious feeder which upon invasion quickly destroys maize. The caterpillar feeds on the outer foliage making large and ragged holes. Attack on the maize at early vegetative stage can result into 100 percent loss if no control measures are taken,” says the ministry in a note.

King called for the use of Genetically Modified (GM) crops to boost the fight against emerging Armyworms. GM maize has the ability to not resist fall armyworms but also stem borer, according to King.