After confirmation by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) that the recent pest infestation is in fact the fall armyworm, concerns have been raised around what the impact could be on the South African economy, says Paul Makube, Senior Agricultural Economist at FNB Business.
Makube believes we are in a good position to deal with the fall armyworm due to early detection.
He answers questions that have been asked about this recent invader in the sector:
In which provinces is the armyworm present?
At the moment it is in Limpopo and the North West provinces.
What crops have been affected?
Presently it is in maize, potentially in tomatoes and potatoes. The pest infestation may not be limited to these crops only.
Does it have an impact on what we export, could South Africa face import restrictions?
The pest is airborne, it does not need to be carried in harvested products to enter the country and therefore restrictions of exports will be ineffective. It is a pest that has travelled from the Americas through North Africa and has found its way to Southern Africa.
What is being done to contain the spread of the fall armyworm?
DAFF has implemented the South African Emergency Plant Pest Response Plan and is fast tracking certification of pesticides, monitoring and dissemination of technical information on control options.
How will this affect maize reserves?
The outbreak, if not contained, has potential to reduce production. However, almost 80% of the country’s maize is Bt (genetically modified) maize and susceptibility is minimal. The large maize producing areas of SA are still relatively pest free.
Will this have any impact on the pricing of maize?
Although we should monitor the situation, it is still way too early to conclude what the overall impact could be on price and broader market factors. This can however quickly change as it is a pest that is airborne and can spread easily.
What should farmers do to ensure minimal impact?
Be alert – Scout for the pest and notify the authorities for technical information and assistance.
What are the knock-on effects given South Africa is starting to edge out of a drought?
- There is an immediate cost to the affected farmers due to the need to source registered and effective pesticides.
- Farmers who experience another lost crop (from the drought) and income could find themselves in the red; it may take them years to fully recover.
“It is still early days, we need to have a measured approach as the pest is new to South Africa. There are no proven remedies available for maize in the country, however, there are other chemicals that can be recommended, DAFF has already set in motion that new remedies be registered and certified for use. The commercial sector has the capacity to control the pest when the pesticides become available. We just have to minimise the infestation to ensure that the fall armyworm does not have extensive impact on a recovering sector,” says Makube.