That isn’t a joke–The Liberian president has declared a state of emergency:
“MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Liberia’s president declared a state of emergency over an invasion of crop-eating caterpillars that has affected 350,000 people in the West African country.
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told lawmakers Monday night that the pests “have invaded our country with the potential to set back our progress in the production of food and export crops.”
“This is indeed a crisis and I hereby declare a state of national emergency with particular emphasis on the existing and potentially affected counties,” she said.
The inch-long (2-3 centimeter) pests, which have been identified as army worms — the caterpillar stage of a moth — are clogging wells and waterways with excrement and devouring vital crops including banana, plantain, coffee and cocoa.”
News reports identify the invaders as Spodoptera exempta, the African Armyworm. The caterpillar of this moth can suddenly become very abundant when conditions are right, and devastate all the crops in an area.
Additionally, because of the high numbers of caterpillars, they often have to move to find new food–and they and they all go together. Hence the name ‘armyworm’.
This photo from the Armyworm Biological Control Consortium gives you a sense of the kinds of damage these ‘pillars can do. They are eating and pooping as they go, which is why wells and waterways are being clogged.
The ABCC has a nice overview of the devastating nature of armyworms, and also the attempts to control it biologically. Sadly, the only way that this outbreak can be controlled is probably insecticides. Biological control won’t act fast enough to save Liberians’ food and water.
I have no information on how anyone can help; Liberia has asked for help from FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation).