The African armyworm has invaded the Eastern Cape. They are already destroying pastures and grasslands in Amathole, Alfred Nzo and Chris Hani districts, and now villagers around King William’s Town and Ngqushwa municipality have found them in their crops too.

The worms were found in a King William’s Town suburban garden, but then villagers in Qawukeni were shocked to find them in their maize fields. Fall armyworm affects crops such as sorghum, ground nuts, maize and potatoes.

From KwaZulu-Natal to Eastern Cape

Nikelo Bayibile of the Qawukeni Maize Farmers’ Association, a co-op run by villagers, said he was astonished to see worms in parts of their 38ha maize plantation. Despite hearing that they had been spotted in KwaZulu-Natal, he was not ready for them to appear in the Eastern Cape.

“It was shocking to see these destroyers, because we plan on going back to the fields to plough and feed our families. To have them killing your plants, it demoralises you and the people you work with. They were in KwaZulu-Natal and the next thing we see them in our own maize fields,” said Bayibile.

He said they found only a few worms earlier in the week, but had since found more on their maize crops. A neighbour made some calls and government officials came to assist. “We are grateful that we’ve discovered these armyworms and hope that we can prevent them from spreading to other areas,” said Bayibile.

Maize harvested from this project feeds people in villages such as Qawukeni, Khalana, Zondeki, Qaga and Qhugqwala. Co-op member Nonkumbulelo Ramba is terrified the worms will destroy everything. “This is all we have and imagine if they manage to destroy these plants. We will go to bed hungry,” she said.

Speedy intervention needed

Ngqushwa ward councillor Bulela Ntabeni said: “We should be worried if this hits our villages in Ngqushwa and we must act before they spread to other areas. We as government have to intervene to make sure that all is saved to feed these communities.

“Remember, we are coming from a drought that destroyed almost everything. The speedy intervention of the local officials is appreciated, because they managed to provide pesticides and we are expecting more from them.”

Eastern Cape rural development and agrarian reform spokesperson Ayongezwa Lungisa told the Dispatch that the department has activated a technical team, led by MEC Nomakhosazana Meth and Dohne Agricultural Research scientists, to help fight the armyworms in the affected areas.

“This outbreak comes hot on the heels of one of the worst droughts in living memory and affects our communities in tandem with the global coronavirus pandemic. Districts that were devastated by drought, which are now experiencing a resurgence of greener pastures and grasslands, are encouraged to conduct vigorous scouting for the insect, both in maize fields and pastures.

“First the province struggled with feed during drought, resulting in farmers being unable to sell their animals, and now faces yet another challenge with this outbreak. The insects are attacking grasslands and pastures, and livestock are at risk of falling ill due to armyworm-related poisoning,” said Lungisa. – DispatchLIVE