2. Liberia: Caterpillar infestation less serious than first believed (SciDev.Net, UN News Service)

| February 9, 2009

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The caterpillars that overtook northeastern Liberia several weeks ago are more benign than originally believed.The caterpillars were described by locals as “black, creeping, and hairy” and were thought to be armyworms. More than 100 Liberian villages were infested. The pests devoured coffee, cocoa, plantain, and banana crops, and contaminated water supplies with their droppings.

But scientific efforts to precisely identify the insects brought some good news. Armyworms deposit their eggs underground – making them difficult to reach with pesticides. The caterpillars in Liberia are a different species (Achae catocaloides), and lay cocoons on the ground where they are easier to destroy.

Now that the pest has been identified, authorities are looking for a pesticide that will kill the caterpillars without affecting crops or further contaminating water supplies.

Georg Goergen is an entomologist at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture. He says that colder than average temperatures at the start of the year followed by warming could have caused the outbreak. He added that the loss of forest habitat in the area could also have encouraged the caterpillars to seek food elsewhere.

-To read FRW’s original report on the caterpillar invasion, go to: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/01/26/liberia-armyworms-invade-un-integrated-regional-information-networks-afrol-un-food-and-agriculture-organization/.
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The caterpillars have also attacked border villages in Guinea. Cocoa plantations in Côte d’Ivoire are on alert.