ZIMBABWEFarmers in southern Africa face a growing threat amid an outbreak of armyworms, a destructive pest that’s spread to Zimbabwe while continuing to decimate fields in neighbouring Zambia.

The black-striped caterpillars have infested 124,000 hectares (306,400 acres) of Zambian fields out of 1.4 million planted hectares, Agriculture Minister Dora Siliya told reporters on Tuesday in the capital, Lusaka.

That’s up from an estimated 90,000 hectares last week. In Zimbabwe, the fall armyworm has been reported in seven of the eight corn-growing provinces, the government and farmers’ representatives said.

The fall armyworm is a “major problem for us,” Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers Union President Wonder Chabikwa said by phone on Tuesday from Harare, the capital.

The spread of the caterpillars is linked to a dry spell last year, he said.

Two of the country’s corn-growing provinces have also reported the presence of African armyworms.

Corn, which is commonly referred to as maize, is a staple food in both countries and Zambian President Edgar Lungu directed the air force in late December to help airlift pesticides to fight the outbreak.

While Zambia produced a corn surplus last year, crops elsewhere in the region were hard hit by drought and Zimbabwe said in July it would roll out a $500 million program to boost production of the crop and ease food shortages.

Authorities are confident Zambia’s food security won’t be threatened, Siliya said.