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February 04, 2009

Cocoa pest plaguing Liberia my be easier-than-expected to control, FAO says

by Rudy Ruitenberg

Cocoa-eating caterpillars in Liberia may be easier to control than previously thought because they don’t burrow into the ground to cocoon, the United Nations said.

The moth larvae that devastated crops in the West African country spin their cocoons on the ground under fallen leaves, making it easier to curb them, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said on its Web site.

“Team members returning from the field reported villagers destroying cocoons by stamping on them or collecting and burning them,” the FAO said. The team “confirmed that the caterpillars had polluted water bodies and damaged crops such as coffee, cocoa, plantain, bananas and wild flora.”

The UN, which previously attributed the infestation to armyworm, yesterday identified the pest as a moth of the Achaea genus. Armyworms bore 4 to 5 centimeters (1.6-2 inches) into the ground to pupate, making them harder to control with pesticides.

Ivory Coast, which accounts for about 39 percent of global cocoa output, shares a border with Liberia.

“The caterpillars moved to other food sources after having eaten through the leaves of the Dahoma trees where they chiefly reside,” the FAO said. “Staple food crops such as maize, rice, sorghum and millet, which are scarce during this dry season, had generally not been affected.”

Liberian authorities don’t have measures in place for further outbreaks, the FAO said.

The moth whose larvae are causing the devastation is Achaea catocaloides rena. The caterpillars are mainly feeding on cocoa and banana trees, FAO representative Winfred Hammond said in an interview.

The UN recently week reported the caterpillars had started to cocoon, after about 100 villages in northern and central Liberia had been affected, as well as six communities in neighboring Guinea.


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