Liberia: Caterpillars invade farmer’s crops

| July 28, 2014

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An infestation of millions of armyworms has damaged crops and is polluting drinking water in northern Liberia. The infestation was first identified in June 2014, and farmers say the situation is becoming desperate. The caterpillars have forced more than five thousand farmers to abandon their homes and farms in Lofa and Gbarpolu Counties.

Janeba Flomo’s farm in Lofa County has been seriously affected. The 44-year-old farmer says: “All my efforts have gone in vain for this year. The caterpillars have destroyed all my okra and other crops … I don’t know where they are coming from but the situation is getting worse every day.”

Armyworms can be very destructive, attacking food crops and grazing land. But it’s not just their appetite which has an effect on farmers. Their droppings contaminate drinking water, where they are toxic to humans.

Yarkpawolo Tarnue farms in Gbarpolu County. The 55-year-old farmer left his land in June after the armyworms arrived. He says, “[The] creek we drink from is polluted. There is no water in my village to drink. When you drink from the creek, you will get sick and maybe die.”

Lofa is considered the breadbasket of Liberia. Local farmers produce large quantities of cassava, eddoes, plantains, bananas and potatoes to supply Liberian markets. Morris Chea is a local agriculture inspector at the Ministry of Agriculture. He says, “The ministry is worried about the situation and is doing everything possible to contain the attack.”

Liberian officials and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization have visited the affected areas. They are assessing the extent of the damage and say that something will be done immediately to help farmers.

Clarice Jah is a member of the Liberian Parliament. She indicated that Parliament has already met, and that the government will make resources available for affected communities to counter the infestation. Ms. Jah says: “The situation has been brought to our attention. We will take a decision … immediately to handle the situation. We cannot sit and see our local farmers and people go through this nightmare.”

Mariam Kabbah also farms in Gbarpolu County. She is frustrated by the armyworm infestation. She uses the money she earns from her farm to send her children to school, but now worries that she will not be able to pay fees for the next academic year.

Mrs. Kabbah says, “My entire cassava farm was destroyed by the caterpillars. I don’t even have access to my farm any longer … The caterpillars have taken over.”