February 10, 2017

Lancaster scientist helps to tackle new invasive crop pest in southern Africa

Professor Kenneth Wilson of Lancaster Environment Centre has flown to Zambia to assess the Fall armyworm outbreaks that are devastating crops in southern Africa.

The Fall armyworm – a caterpillar that eats its way through staple cereal crops, like maize, and other crops, including beans and peas – poses a major threat to food security and farmers’ livelihoods.

Professor Wilson will be working with the University of Zambia to assess the damage caused by this new pest, which first arrived in West Africa from the Americas in January 2016 and has since spread to at least eight countries in southern Africa, including Zambia, Zimbabwe and, most recently, South Africa.

He will report on the situation in southern Africa at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s emergency meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, between 14 and 16 February.

The aim of the talks is to assess emergency responses to the Fall armyworm threat and discuss potential regional monitoring and control strategies.

Professor Wilson will present his findings to the meeting and update policymakers on his work developing a novel biopesticide to protect crops from insect outbreaks like the one in southern Africa.

Professor Wilson explained: “The threat posed to the region by both the native African armyworm and this new armyworm species from the Americas poses a real threat to Africa, especially as the Fall armyworm has already evolved resistance to many of the main chemicals pesticides currently in use in Africa.

“I will be exploring with the FAO a range of measures that could be put in place to better control this new invasive species, including the potential for novel biopesticides to be used in future.”

In 2013 Professor Wilson travelled to Zambia to study the impact of a major African armyworm outbreak on food security. During the trip, he met with the Vice-President of Zambia to discuss measures to mitigate the crisis.

Article source: Lancaster University Lancaster Environment Centre

Image: Lancaster University Lancaster Environment Centre