SOUTH AFRICA – South African maize farms are suffering “extensive” damage from what appears to be an alien caterpillar that destroyed fields in other countries in the region, according to the government.

While the government is yet to verify the pest as the fall armyworm that’s native to the Americas and arrived in Africa last year, the caterpillar may pose a serious threat to production of the staple food, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said in an e-mailed statement on Wednesday.

The pest has been reported in the northern Limpopo and North West provinces, the department said. North West and the central Free State province account for the bulk of South Africa’s maize output.

“If this pest is indeed the fall armyworm, it could be disastrous, particularly to maize production,” the department said.

Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe already suffered extensive damage to tens of thousands of hectares of mainly corn fields.

The arrival of the alien species threatens to hurt corn output as Southern Africa is recovering from its worst drought in over 35 years, even as rainfall improves.

South Africa could increase its maize crop to at least 11.9 million metric tonnes this year from 7.5 million tonnes, the Agricultural Business Chamber said last month.

Maize for delivery in March, the most active contract, rose by 3.6%, the most since October, to R2 869 per ton on Wednesday.

February 2, 2017;