Sierra Leone mans defences against army worm invasion
Freetown (AFP) Jan 26, 2009
Sierra Leone has launched a massive drive to ward of the threat of an invasion of crop destroying caterpillars already attacking neighbouring Liberia and Guinea, authorities said Monday.
"We have sent huge quantities of chemicals and hundreds of spraying personnel to the six (border) districts and advised farmers to be on the look out for the pests," the head of the crops protection services of the Sierra Leone Ministry of Agriculture, Ibrahim Shami, said.
"Every district has formed a team of operators ready to go into action," Shami added.
The caterpillars, called army worms, are already attacking villages and crops in more than 40 villages in Sierra Leone and have been spotted in Guinea.
Shami recalled that Sierra Leone had already suffered an army worm invasion in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the pest destroyed huge amount of vital crops including rice, corn, cocoa, coffee, oil palm and citrus plantations.
"We don't want to be caught napping this time," he said.
"At the moment, we face a serious threat from the pests in Lofa County (in Liberia) which is just across the Sierra leone border. We share the same crops and weather which favour the spread of the pests."
The authorities in Liberia have called on the international community to help fight the plague. They warn that tens of thousands of people could go hungry if the insects are not stopped.
"I am hereby declaring a state of emergency," Sirleaf said in a speech broadcast on television.
Declaring a state of emergency over the plague by the voracious caterpillars, known as army worms, will make it easier for the president to free up government money to fight the invasion but it is also a cry for attention.
Monrovia has already said it does not have the means to spray the army worms with insecticide from planes and has asked the international community for help.
"Thousands of people have been affected by the invasion of millions of army worms in the centre of the country (...) I have mandated the minister of finance to mobilise all possible resources to enable us to curtail the situation," Sirleaf said.
Authorities say more than 53 towns and villages in Liberia have now been affected by the caterpillars which can lay waste to an entire crop in a matter of days.
Monrovia has warned that tens of thousands of Liberians face hunger due to the insect invasion.
Last week the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the invasion by tens of millions of army worms was a "national emergency" for Liberia that could spread across west Africa.
An FAO delegation currently in Liberia is due to visit other potentially affected countries Tuesday to take samples of the insects to determine the best way to combat the plague.
According to reports, the army worms have passed into neighbouring Guinea.
Liberia's other neighbour, Sierra Leone, announced Monday it had started a massive drive sending chemicals and spraying personnel to the border districts to keep the invading insects at bay.
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