The spread of Spodoptera frugiperda is threatening the region’s food safety
AFRICA has been invaded on quiet wings. The fall armyworm, a pest known for munching its way through more than 80 plant species, first arrived in Nigeria in January 2016. Today, it can be found in 43 countries across the continent (see map). If the pest is not controlled, it could gobble up as much as 20% of the region’s maize, a staple for more than 200m sub-Saharan Africans.
The fall armyworm was once a plague in North and South America. Today, farmers there control the pest with the help of genetically modified plants and advanced pesticides. In Africa, the worms are spreading rapidly thanks to speedy migration and reproduction. African farmers, most of whom toil on small plots using outdated techniques, could risk poisoning their crops if they try to use cheap pesticide to kill the worms.
To stem the invasion, experts recommend mixing crops, encouraging natural predators and patrolling fields to crush the eggs by hand. Better still would be to copy America’s commercial farmers, who plant genetically modified (GM) crops that are largely resistant to the worm. Lifting existing bans on GM crops on the continent would lead to fewer hungry caterpillars and fewer hungry people.