Dry spell, army worms damage Malawi crops

Mon Jan 18, 2010 3:41pm GMT

LILONGWE (Reuters) - A persistent dry spell and an army worm outbreak in Malawi have destroyed about 35,000 hectares of crops, threatening the food security of 123,000 families so far, a senior government official said on Monday.

Army worms have attacked nine districts and destroyed 5,000 hectares of crops, while 30,000 hectares of maize have been damaged due to the dry spell, information gathered from the country's eight Agriculture Development Divisions showed.

"The army worm situation is now under control and in some areas people have replanted," Andrew Daudi, principal secretary in the ministry of agriculture said.

Army worms, which can grow to around 5 centimeters (two inches) in length, are moth caterpillars and when present in large numbers can destroy swathes of vegetation and crops.

The Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) said hunger was looming in the poor southern African country. It called on the government to act urgently.

"There are signs of widespread hunger because of the dry spell and the damage caused by army worms," FUM president Abel Banda told Reuters.

"When parliament meets next week, this issue should be top of the agenda because the crop is not good out there."

In recent years, Malawi has enjoyed bumper harvests following the introduction of a fertilizer and seed subsidy programme.

The country harvested a hefty 1.3 million tonne maize crop last year, its fifth consecutive surplus of the staple.   Continued...

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