Authorities in Malawi say an invasion by fall armyworms is threatening to create food shortages in the southern African country.
Since the start of the rainy season in November, the worms have destroyed crops for a quarter million farming families.
In Mulanje, Tereza Manuel, 26, is among the farmers most affected by the invasion.
The mother of three normally harvests over 40 bags of maize from her two-acre garden, but this season she’s expecting almost nothing.
“As for me, I have been adversely affected because my entire maize field has been attacked by the armyworms and I have nothing to rely on now,” she said.
Armyworms are an invasive pest from the Americas that has devastated crops in Africa since 2016. An armyworm invasion in 2017 forced Malawi to declare 20 of the country’s 28 districts as disaster areas. They feed on cereal crops like maize, a staple food in Malawi.
“We are going to face hunger in this area,” said Aidah Deleza, a Senior Chief responsible for over 100 villages in the Chikumbu area. “There are a lot of villages which have been affected and as I have said, it means hunger now. So, we need government’s intervention.”
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development blames weather patterns for the armyworm invasion.
The ministry is distributing free pesticides, but farmers say that the insecticides are inadequate and ineffective.
“The problem is that most farmers apply the pesticides when the worms are already grown,” said Hillary Ching’anda, an extension worker in the ministry. “As a result, the worms don’t die because they are old enough to resist the pesticides.”
Farmers such as Manuel are resorting to homemade remedies to ward off the pests.
“As farmers we are using our own traditional methods like applying soil, soup from small fish, bitter leaves from the neem tree and powdered soap,” she said.
But Malawian farmers say they need more help to recover from the pest’s damage.
“Since government appreciates that the invasion is huge, what we want is that it should consider providing us with seeds,” said farmer Ayida John. “Or, they should give us food that will take us to the next growing season.”
Malawi authorities say they will soon distribute seeds to affected farmers.