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February 02, 2009

Liberian crop pest not army worms, species unknown

Pests that have ravaged crops in Liberia and sparked a national emergency, while threatening other countries in West Africa, are not army worms and remain unidentified, the ministry of agriculture said on Februray 2.

The creatures, first identified as destructive "army worm" moth caterpillars, are threatening the food security of some 350,000 Liberians, most of whom live on subsistence farming.

But as the presence of the pests has spread as rapidly as 60 km (38 miles) per day and they have already been reported in Guinea, agricultural experts fear they could disperse over a region that is home to top cocoa growers Ivory Coast and Ghana.

"They are not army worms, though we haven't determined what they are," Liberian Agriculture Minister Chris Toe said. He said samples were being dispatched to the United Kingdom for further testing to identify the pests, two weeks after they were first reported and tests in Ghana proved inconclusive.

"We need to be prepared for a secondary and tertiary wave of the pests," he added.


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