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February 03, 2009

Crop-eating pests laying more larvae in Liberia

by Jonathan Paye-Leah

Swarms of crop-eating pests are laying more larvae in the West African country, experts said Tuesday, warning that the caterpillars also have been identified as a species capable of more damage than previously believed.

While officials initially believed the caterpillars were army worms, Liberian Agriculture Minister Chris Toe said they now believe they are actually a pest capable of destroying even more crops, known as Achaea Catocaloides.

The pest invasion in Liberia, which is still recovering from years of civil war, has been blamed on last year's unusually long rainy season. The caterpillars have eaten vital crops including banana, plantain, coffee and cocoa and have forced villagers from their farms.

Agriculture Ministry official Joseph Subah said February 3 that 107 towns already have been hit by the pests and that they are now laying larvae, which will develop into more crop-eating caterpillars.

"We should expect a second wave or a third wave," Subah said.

The infestation is not expected to end until March, with the start of the rainy season in Liberia, said Alan Schroeder, an American entomologist with USAID.

The last time Liberia experienced such an invasion of pests was 30 years ago, but officials then were able to prevent its spread.

The West African nation was ravaged by civil wars for years until 2003. The drawn-out conflict that began in 1989 left about 200,000 people dead and displaced half the country's population of 3 million.

Associated Press

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