Malawi sees bigger maize harvest despite pest invasion

LILONGWE (Reuters) - Malawi’s maize production may rise a third in 2017 to 3.2 million tonnes despite damage inflicted by the fall armyworm, an alien South American pest that has invaded corn fields from Congo to South Africa.

Malawi’s maize crop, the staple grain, was devastated last year by a regional drought triggered by an El Nino weather pattern. About 6.5 million Malawians, more than a third of the population, are dependent on food aid until this year’s harvest in March, according to the United Nations’ World Food Programme.

The armyworm outbreak raised concerns about this year’s harvest in Malawi, a landlocked southern African country that is one of the world’s poorest nations.

But the invasion has been contained, Erica Maganga, Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, told Reuters in an interview.

“A combination of too much rains and the successful pesticide distribution to farmers have helped us to stop the armyworm invasion,” Maganga said.

“The first round of the 2016/17 agriculture production estimates have given us a glimmer of hope because we are expecting 3.2 million metric tonnes this year from 2.4 million the previous season,” she said.

Zimbabwe is likely to be the country hardest hit by an outbreak of armyworms, the United Nations food agency said earlier this month.

Reporting by Mabvuto Banda; Editing by Ed Stoddard/James Macharia