2 April 2014 16:30

The UK's Global Food Security Champion says a Lancaster University website about the African armyworm will help to combat the pest.

Armyworm Network provides important information for farmers in Africa plagued by this devastating pest.  

Professor Tim Benton said: “The new website will be a valuable resource for all farmers, governments and others whose lives have been impacted by this major pest of cereal crops in Africa. The forecasts the site provides will be particularly useful for farmers and governments to plan armyworm control activities”.

Armyworms are the caterpillar stage of a moth that migrates throughout sub-Saharan Africa. It is a serious pest of all the main cereal crops, including maize (sweetcorn), rice, millet, sorghum and wheat, as well as pasture grasses, threatening food security in the region.

A cattle farmer from South Africa, who has had armyworms on his pastures for the second year running, said: “I went out early this morning and found hundreds of them on our fields. Last year they destroyed all of our winter grazing (150 hectares), despite our best efforts to control them.

“The website of your university, thousands of kilometres away, was the only comprehensive site I could find with useful information.”

Visitors to the new website can email directly experts in African armyworm biology and control, including Professor Ken Wilson from the Lancaster Environment Centre, who developed the website and has a video blog about the pest.

He said, “It is fantastic to be able to launch the new website. The previous site was extremely popular, especially with farmers in Africa and with international agencies wanting to know more about this important crop pest. The new website contains so much more information and is also much easier to navigate”.

The new Armyworm Network provides information and forecasts for large- and small-scale farmers in Africa, as well as for governments, donor agencies, non-governmental organisations, journalists and other stakeholders. It replaces and improves upon its predecessor, which received more than 10,000 visitors from 30 countries during the five years it was operational.

It provides visitors with more information about the biology of this major crop pest, how it can be controlled, current research developing a new biological pesticide against it, press reports of armyworm outbreaks, publications, a live Twitter feed, and regular forecasts issued by international pest monitoring organizations.