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Army worms add to food security threat

THARAKA, May 8 – A looming food shortage in the country is threatening to degenerate if the government does not move quickly to stop the destruction of crops and vegetation being caused by army worms.

The latest threat to the food crops have been reported in three districts in the Mount Kenya region, posing a menace to hundreds of thousands of hectares of growing plants.

The worms, which reproduce and spread fast, have destroyed an estimated 30,000 hectares of maize in Kirinyaga district.

They were also marching through farms in Tharaka district in the Meru region and Mbeere district, which borders Kirinyaga.

Government workers on Wednesday started spraying farms in Kirinyaga and Tharaka in an effort to stop the worms from spreading to other areas.

Army worms are known to eat everything to the ground, leaving only bare earth in their wake. The green or black worms can destroy an entire lawn in just three days.

The invasion comes at a time when experts have warned that the country faces a crisis due to failed rains and the post-election violence, in which farms were left unattended.

Food prices have soared as a result.

In Tharaka, District Commissioner Wycliffe Ogalo said the worms had destroyed at least 200 hectares of sorghum, millet and pasture, particularly in Tharaka North Division.

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They were first noticed in the area on April 30, he said, but added that ongoing spraying had ensured they would not spread further. The area borders the Meru National Park.

"We have put measures in place to ensure that these destructive worms do not spread all over the district.  Our officers have moved in to control them with spray chemicals," said Ogalo.

Tharaka District is largely semi-arid and produces a variety of cereals, and farmers also keep livestock as their economic mainstay.

Kirinyaga District Agricultural Officer John Mumu appealed to farmers in the district to report any presence of the worms in their farms to avoid further destruction to crops.

He led a team of technicians from the Agriculture Ministry in spraying insecticides to contain the worms. The worms were in Ndia and Mwea divisions, but had also crossed over into Mbeere, which borders the area.

James Kariuki said he first noticed the black worms on his four-acre maize farm on Wednesday morning.

The worms appeared to be only targeting maize, which was recently planted, and grass.

Mumu assured farmers that the government had enough resources and would contain the situation.

Only last week a similar invasion was reported in Mandera District, where large tracts of grazing land were destroyed by insects, in this case locusts.

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