Scientists find crop-destroying caterpillar spreading rapidly in Africa

Dried caterpillars are seen for sale at Gambela Market in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, in this July 14, 2015 file photo. (Reuters)
Updated 06 February 2017
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Scientists find crop-destroying caterpillar spreading rapidly in Africa

LONDON: Scientists tracking a crop-destroying caterpillar known as armyworm say it is now spreading rapidly across mainland Africa and could reach tropical Asia and the Mediterranean in the next few years, threatening agricultural trade.
In research released on Monday, scientists at the Britain-based Center for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) said the pest, which had not previously been established outside the US, is now expected to spread “to the limits of suitable African habitat” within a few years.
The caterpillar destroys young maize plants, attacking their growing points and burrowing into the cobs.
“It likely traveled to Africa as adults or egg masses on direct commercial flights and has since been spread within Africa by its own strong flight ability and carried as a contaminant on crop produce,” said CABI’s chief scientist Matthew Cock.
Armyworm, known as “fall armyworm” in the US due to its tendency to migrate there in autumn, or fall, is native to North and South America and can devastate maize, a staple crop crucial to food security in large parts of Africa.
Suspected outbreaks have already erupted in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and South Africa and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization
said last week it had spread to Namibia and Mozambique.
The CABI research found evidence of two species of fall armyworm in Ghana for the first time and scientists are now working to understand how it got there, how it spreads, and how farmers can control it in an environmentally friendly way.
“This is the first time it has been shown that both species or strains are established on mainland Africa,” Cook said. “Following earlier reports from Nigeria, Togo and Benin, this shows they are clearly spreading very rapidly.”
While armyworm mainly affects maize, it has also been recorded eating more than 100 different plant species, causing major damage to crops such as rice and sugarcane as well as cabbage, beet and soybeans.
Cook warned that outbreaks can cause devastating losses and mounting debts for farmers and said urgent action is now needed to help farmers figure out the best strategies to control the pest.
South Africa’s Agriculture Ministry said last week it was registering pesticides for use against armyworm.


France’s Nicolas Sarkozy loses bid to avoid influence peddling trial

Updated 53 min 30 sec ago
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France’s Nicolas Sarkozy loses bid to avoid influence peddling trial

  • Sarkozy is accused of offering to help a judge win promotion
  • Sarkozy’s lawyers have previously argued that magistrates investigating the alleged secret Libyan funding exceeded their powers

PARIS: Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy will stand trial for influence peddling after the country's highest court rejected his final bid to have the case thrown out, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
Sarkozy is accused of offering to help a judge win promotion in return for leaked information about a separate inquiry. He has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
The case came about after investigators used phone-taps to examine allegations that late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi funded Sarkozy’s successful campaign for the presidency in 2007.
As they eavesdropped on his calls, the investigators began to suspect the former president had offered the judge promotion in return for information on another investigation involving allegations Sarkozy accepted illicit payments from L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for the same campaign.
Sarkozy’s lawyers have previously argued that magistrates investigating the alleged secret Libyan funding exceeded their powers and went on a “fishing expedition” by tapping his conversations between September 2013 and March 2014, breaching lawyer-client privilege.
He was cleared over the Bettencourt allegations.
On Wednesday, his defence team said the use in this case of wiretapped remarks gleaned in relation to a different investigation contravened a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.
"These legal issues are still relevant," Sarkozy lawyer Jacqueline Laffont said. "It will be for the court to decide whether a French court can override a decision of the European Court of Human Rights."
Wednesday's ruling that the trial proceed came from the 'Cour de Cassation', which decides whether an earlier decision by an appeals court conforms with French law.