Pests Invade Liberian Forests, Farms

Army worm

Millions of caterpillars have invaded Liberia. The worms (shown here at a later stage of life) eat the leaves at the top of the Dahoma tree and threaten some water supplies. Photo by Jean-Philippe Debus/CRS

Lane Hartil, CRS regional information officer for West Africa, sends this report about an attack of caterpillars.

A team of CRS employees visited this week Bong County in northern Liberia where they assessed the damage worms have caused Liberia’s forest and agriculture. For the last two weeks, an unprecedented caterpillar infestation has been reported from various districts in northern Liberia. News reports say they have now entered neighboring Guinea. CRS is preparing to respond to the crisis in Liberia.

Jean-Philippe Debus, CRS’ technical adviser for emergencies in West Africa, was part of the assessment team. He says that the worms start eating the leaves at the tops of the dahoma tree (Piptadeniastrum africanum) and work their way down. Many worms fall from the tree tops and begin eating vegetation upon landing. The dahoma is their major host plant; it is found all over the country. Cocoa and banana trees have also been affected that are near dahoma trees, but the CRS team saw no widespread cash crop devastation.

The worms also land in open water sources, contaminating the water. The villagers Debus talked with were mainly concerned about the worms polluting streams with their excrement. Villages often rely on these streams for drinking water. Some villagers have reported streams and wells turning black from the feces. The devastation, which has hit some 65 villages, prompted Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, to declare a state of emergency.

While the situation is serious and needs to be addressed, Debus says large-scale displacement of Liberians has not occurred. Mapping and tracking new outbreaks and giving Liberians accurate information is needed, he says, to quell unnecessary fears. Nongovernmental organizations like CRS, in coordination with partners and the Ministry of Agriculture, can help.

Debus said access is also a problem. Because the dahoma tree grows deep in the forest, there may be infestations happening in hard-to-reach areas where few people live. Some spraying by the government has started and entomologists are deciding how best to stop the worms’ advance. The spraying, however, is not on a large scale.

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3 Responses to “Pests Invade Liberian Forests, Farms”

  1. Dr Peter Merrett Says:

    This is unlikely to be the true African armyworm, Spodoptera exempta, as this pest only attacks cereal crops. The BBC keeps publishing erroneous information about Spodoptera exempta with its stories about the caterpillars in Liberia devouring crops they would never eat like lettuce, collards and cocoa.
    Regards, Peter

  2. Catepillar Menacing Liberia is Not ‘Army Worm’ | Voices of CRS Says:

    […] the catepillar threatening food and water supplies in Liberia is not the army worm, as reported here (since corrected) and elsewhere last […]

  3. Liberia’s Mystery Caterpillar Identified | Voices of CRS Says:

    […] mystery catepillar that invaded Liberia and threatens to move to neighboring countries was determined not to be the […]

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