I, for One, Welcome Our New Crop Devouring Overlords..

June 26, 2014


It sounds like a scene ripped from a hysterical sci-fi thriller — thousands of people fleeing their homes as an army of ravenous caterpillars take over town. But that’s exactly what’s happening in northern Liberia, in west Africa. Millions of caterpillars, believed to be related to the devastating crop pest the african armyworm are munching through fields and marching into homes, causing many people to abandon their houses until the flood of caterpillars recedes. There are also public health concerns as the sheer quantity of caterpillars means massive amounts of excrement is washing into rivers and other fresh water supplies.

“We are afraid. You see here, the caterpillars are all over and there is nowhere to sleep. I am leaving with my children to a different community,” Mary Tolbert who lives in Gbarpolu County told AllAfrica..

Both Dr. Sizi Subah, deputy agriculture minister for technical services in Liberia and Winfred Hammond, a senior entomologist with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, have said that the recent and unprecedented caterpillar outbreaks may be linked to disruptions in the rainy and dry seasons, fueled by climate change.

“The biggest concern is the fact that this is becoming a regular occurrence,” Hammond told AllAfrica. “It’s about time we seriously consider putting in place early warning systems and looked at how we can contain or check this problem from becoming a big national concern.”


Crop pests and diseases are moving towards the poles at about the same speed as warmer temperatures. The finding suggests that climate change is driving their relocation, and raises major concerns about food security.

Climate change is expected to cause changes in the distributions of species around the world, with an overall shift away from the equator and towards the poles. Ecologists have already documented such a shift in many wild species, including some birds and insects.

The changing climate is raising major concerns about food security in many countries, and pests may contribute to making matters worse. “Our defences, pesticides and fungicides, are being asked to deal with larger and larger numbers of pests and diseases, each of which can evolve fungicide or pesticide resistance,” says ecologist Dan Bebber of the University of Exeter, UK, who led the new study. Expansion of pest populations into new territories increases the risk that these organisms will escape our control.

Among the biggest threats are fungi and oomycetes, similar but distinct groups of microbes, which cause plant diseases. Several highly virulent strains of fungi have emerged in recent years around the world, and the oomycetePhytophthora infestans remains a persistent problem even 168 years after causing the great Irish potato famine4.



2 Responses to “I, for One, Welcome Our New Crop Devouring Overlords..”

  1. dumboldguy Says:

    Populations of insects and disease organisms rise and fall for many reasons, that’s why we talk about “ecological webs”, with much interrelatedness among and between living things and the environment.

    A less obvious effect of climate change is the shifting of “ranges” and altering of habitats. What we see now is more subtle and incremental, but accelerating AGW is likely to force more rapid and drastic changes that will indeed cause “food security problems” due to pests and diseases—-that’s on top of temperature, weather, and water issues. Icing on the cake.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: