JUBA, Aug. 17 (Xinhua) -- The arrival of fall armyworm in South Sudan could worsen food insecurity in the war-torn country which is currently facing an unprecedented food crisis for an estimated 6 million people, experts said Thursday.
The experts said the fall armyworm, which mainly prefer maize plants and sometimes crops such as sorghum, millet, vegetables and other crops is putting more people at greater risk of extreme hunger.
Sampson Akoi, Professor of Integrated Pest Management at John Garang University of Science and Technology said the crop-eating pest is rapidly spreading across South Sudan, warning that if nothing is done to curtail the outbreak, the results could be devastating for a country grappling with civil war and hunger.
He warned that with large numbers of farmlands abandoned due to conflict, South Sudan could become a breeding ground for the fall armyworms if appropriate pest control actions are not taken immediately.
"If this insect is going with the speed it's going now, it will damage a lot of crops and we will not have food. So the impact will be great and there will be a lot of people who will be vulnerable to hunger which is too bad for us. So we need to do something,'' Akoi said.
"We need to really educate our people on how the pest appears and then we selectively control the pest without harming the environment," Akoi added.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the presence of the fall armyworm on the African continent was first reported in Sao Tome and Principe around January 2016, and has devastated farmlands in several countries in southern and eastern Africa.
FAO said the fall armyworm can cause extensive crop losses of up to 73 percent depending on existing conditions and is difficult to control with a single type of pesticide, especially when it has reached an advanced larval stage.
South Sudan declared an outbreak of the fall armyworm in June, with the agriculture ministry saying that 166,000 hectares of farmland have been infested, 500 of which were destroyed completely.
Last month, FAO warned that the outbreak of the deadly pest is another blow to South Sudan's recovery from extreme food insecurity after a localized famine was eased in the East African country following massive humanitarian response.
Phillip Wani Marchelo, Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Juba said with maize and sorghum being staple food in South Sudan, their destruction by the fall armyworm means increased food insecurity and prolonged suffering.
He called on the government to adopt a nationwide pest-control strategy and increase awareness to reduce the harm caused by fall armyworms.
"The outbreak of fall armyworm in South Sudan means a second big problem because we already have insecurity in so many places which has put our farmers off the lens of agriculture for a while. Now that the armyworm has come in, the little that some farmers have planted is going to be damaged," said Marchelo.
In a bid to strengthen response to the outbreak, Onyoti Adingo, minister of agriculture and food security on Thursday formed a 14-member taskforce, composed of UN agencies, lawmakers and academia to spearhead the country's efforts to limit the harm of the fall armyworms on the livelihoods of the South Sudanese people.
He said the government had provided 588,000 U.S. dollars to purchase pesticides, but warned the amount may not tackle pest as it continues to spread faster across South Sudan.
Onyoti appealed to the international community and development partners to give technical and financial support to South Sudan to tackle the outbreak.
Felix Dzvurumi, head of programmes at FAO South Sudan said they would help the ministry of agriculture rollout a nationwide strategy and awareness campaign to promote effective and control interventions and also strengthen national surveillance and monitoring systems.