UN Food and Agriculture Organization
UN Food and Agriculture Organization
News Article | May 17, 2017
Enhancing Food Security in Africa Through Implementing the Trade Facilitation Agreement Trade-related barriers constitute one of the major causes of food insecurity in Africa. How can the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement help facilitate agricultural trade and improve food security on the continent? Trade in agriculture is remarkably low in most African economies compared to the sector’s contribution to their GDP. The less-developed-yet-complex agricultural supply chains in the region are also challenged by intricate and burdensome import and export procedures. This exacerbates food insecurity in Africa. By ensuring simple and efficient trade in agriculture, the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) may provide a solution for enhanced food security on the continent. As per the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) definition, “food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” This could be expressed through the four pillars of food security: (1) availability, (2) access, (3) utilisation, and (4) stability. Food Security is a serious challenge in many African countries. According to the FAO-IFAD-WFP State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015 report, 232 million of Africans were still undernourished during the 2014-16 period, which corresponds to 20 percent of the continent’s population, compared to the 10.9 percent global average and 12.9 average in developing countries. How can the TFA help improve food security in Africa? In Africa, one of the main causes of food insecurity, in addition to regional/domestic production constraints and resource scarcity, is the lack of cost-effective and timely availability of food products from international markets. Imports are costly due to the high cost of trade. Higher trade and transaction costs stem from cumbersome regulatory procedures, both at the export and import level, as well as from the uncertainty at destination border points due to a number of non-tariff measures (NTMs) that may require a last-minute application of various standards and, at times, be nearly impossible to comply with by the exporters and importers. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development clearly asserts a collective responsibility to fully achieve the Sustainable Development Goal 2, which aims to end hunger and all forms of malnutrition by the year 2030. It also commits to the provision of universal access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round. This will require sustainable food production systems, resilient agricultural practices, equal access to land, technology and markets, and international cooperation on investments in infrastructure and technology to boost agricultural productivity. In doing so, the global community needs to focus on Africa, where the prevalence of hunger is more acute, high in proportion, and the recovery potential is low due to a lack of resources and related endowments. Most African countries do not have food self-sufficiency, thus imports are essential to feed their ever-growing populations. It should also be noted that intra-regional trade is very low in Africa, particularly in the agriculture sector, which is often attributed to the complexity of trading and logistics with neighbouring countries. Agricultural supply chains can be extremely complex and fragmented, particularly in African countries. This is due to multiple factors, most of which could be addressed through the implementation of the WTO’s TFA. Following is a brief overview of the TFA could help tackle these various challenges. Addressing the challenges at borders and customs would greatly help in enhancing food security in Africa. In addition to the aforementioned specific results, there are certain systemic implications of implementing the TFA that would help enhance food security in Africa. First and foremost, like in all other sectors, increasing the efficiency of logistics (which is a hallmark of the TFA) would result in gains for agriculture and food trade that, in turn, would contribute towards improving food security. Efficient transport and logistics systems, with improved ports and borders connectivity, increases the economic size of markets, which often result in competitive prices. As per estimates of the WTO Secretariat, full implementation of the TFA could result in a reduction of trade costs ranging from 9.6 to 23.1 percent. With an expected average drop of 16.5 percent, Africa is the region that would benefit the most from this reduction. Secondly, in the particular case of Africa, the access pillar of food security is jeopardised due to low income levels and prevailing poverty on the one hand, and food price volatility and stockpiling on the other. The rent-seeking behaviour of food traders in many countries would be mitigated through the increased availability and competitive prices of food items resulting from the implementation the TFA. Thirdly, with the enhanced level of information sharing and transparency required by the TFA, there would be less opportunities for red-tape in regulatory and trade administrations. It would allow many new traders, particularly small-scale ones, to enter the international trade of agriculture products, thus contributing to regional food security. Fourthly, due to the establishment of national trade facilitation committees under the TFA, the public-private interaction would result in better collaboration, particularly in the area of agriculture, leading to a more enabling trading environment. The TFA’s contribution to the four pillar of food security The link between trade and food security has been discussed in FAO’s The State of Agriculture Commodity Markets 2015-16. It was observed that while the effect of trade on enhancing food security is contextual, there is a body of evidence that establishes positive contributions of trade in enhancing food security. The very core function of the TFA is to make trade simpler and easier, thus strengthening the ability of businesses and countries to trade and leading to increased volumes of trade. As a result, the TFA would also contribute to improved food security. As Africa ranks particularly low on food production and relies heavily on imports, these positive effects of the TFA would be proportionally higher on the continent than in other food-insecure regions and countries. Following is a summary of how the TFA could help strengthen the four pillars of the food security in Africa. By expediting the import and export of goods, especially goods in transit, countries would ensure reliable options to source food from external markets whenever and wherever needed. In the case of Africa, most states are net food importing countries, with huge untapped potential for intra-regional agricultural trade. By promoting expedited and simple import and export, the TFA would enable the region to fully harness the potential of intra-African trade and ensure timely food procurement from external markets whenever required. This would also result in facilitating the establishment of regional agricultural supply and value chains. The implementation of the TFA would reduce transaction costs and, potentially, ensure consistent food supplies while avoiding supply gaps. This would result in relatively lower prices thus improving access and affordability. Trade, in general, increases the variety of food products available in domestic markets by adding to the options offered by national production. By addressing bottlenecks at borders and harmonising the application of food-related standards, the implementation of the TFA would thus improve the nutrition mix available in African markets. Presently, a lot of food items may not be imported due to a lack of knowledge and the arbitrary application of sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards, which may result in the loss of perishable products at border check-points. The TFA provisions addresses such concerns through its provisions related to advance rulings, e-certifications, and the expedited clearance of perishable items. The lack of stability in food supplies is a very serious concern in many African countries, particularly given the context of natural disasters, protracted crises, and situations of drought or famine in some of the continent’s sub-regions. The stability dimension of food security depends on the availability of food in the first place, but more importantly it requires the ability to fill food gaps in a timely manner. By ensuring efficiency in international trade and reducing the time taken to export and import, the TFA would help ensure that food can be supplied constantly, efficiently, and in a timely manner whenever and wherever needed. By addressing trade inefficiencies at various stages and reducing bottlenecks at borders, it is possible to significantly increase the sustainability and reliability of agricultural supply chains in Africa, which would help ensure sustainable food security on the continent. After its ratification by the required number of member states, the WTO’s TFA has come into force and the implementation efforts are in progress. Longer implementation timelines, coupled with the availability of technical assistance, will allow African countries to adopt and implement the required legislative, regulatory, and functional instruments in a way that is in-line with their specific needs. Implementing these commitments would, in turn, make agricultural trade easier and contribute to improving food security on the continent. For these positive results to materialise, it is essential for African countries to put measures that increase the efficiency and simplicity of at-the-border processes at the centre of their priorities, in order to expedite food and agriculture imports and exports. The importance of before and beyond-the-border regulatory infrastructure should not, however, be underestimated, as they also play a key role in providing an enabling environment for food trade. It is perfectly legitimate to be cautious about agriculture trade, in particular as regards safety standards. Nonetheless, turning a blind eye and having a lacklustre attitude about the potential of trade to ensure reliable food supplies to vulnerable populations may fall short of jurisdictional and ethical legitimacy, despite the fact that maintaining a margin of policy space is also important. The implementation of the WTO’s TFA is a significant opportunity to put in place measures that would improve food security at national and regional levels in Africa, while keeping the required policy space and applying legitimate safety standards. The views expressed in this article are of author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of the FAO or any of its Committees/Bodies. Author: Ahmad Mukhtar, Economist, Trade and Food Security, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
News Article | May 4, 2017
Philippine fishers face immense damage to the fisheries and aquaculture sectors in regions affected by Typhoon Haiyan, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization said today, calling for prompt and sustainable actions to help rebuild livelihoods.
News Article | May 4, 2017
Global Environment Facility (GEF) CEO Naoko Ishii today approved a project coordinated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to improve the health and sustainability of tuna fisheries worldwide by reducing illegal catch and supporting related marine ecosystems and species.
News Article | May 7, 2017
Europe’s meat and dairy sectors are highly vulnerable to water scarcity issues in feedstock-supplying nations — such as Brazil, Argentina, and the US — according to new research from the NGO Water Footprint Network. The EU-funded study noted that around 57% of Europe’s soybean imports (which the meat and dairy industries rely on) come from parts of the world that are highly vulnerable to water scarcity issues (which will be worsening notably in the coming decades). These worsening water scarcity issues will likely push up prices of meat and dairy products within Europe in coming years (even with other issues such as population growth and economic malaise not factored in). The study’s co-author, Ertug Ercin, commented: “The highest risk that the European meat and dairy sector will face due to climate change and weather extremes lies outside its borders.” Climate Central provides more: “About two thirds of the global population already live in areas experiencing water scarcity at least one month a year, according to the United Nations. The problem is set to intensify with global warming, which is expected to affect rain patterns and cause more frequent droughts, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says. “Water in soybean farming areas could become insufficient leading to lower production and higher prices, which would push up costs of meat and dairy products in Europe, Ercin said. Imports of other products like rice, sugar cane, cotton, almonds, pistachios and grapes could be similarly affected, according to the report.” “The EU’s economy is dependent on the availability of water in other parts of the world for many crops,” commented Christopher Briggs, WFN executive director. “That makes it vulnerable to increasing water scarcity and drought.” It should also be realized here that the reason that people in Europe are able to live the sorts of lives that they do (eating imported food; using a lot of imported feedstock, fuel, products, etc.) is simply because of trade imbalances that were set up when Europe was home to most of the world’s “superpowers.” This situation has been slowly ending over recent years, and this trend will continue over the coming decades — meaning that those in Europe will have to learn to get by with less and to rely more solely on local resources. Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech daily newsletter or weekly newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.
News Article | May 15, 2017
Lake Atescatempa in Guatemala is dying and with it the livelihoods of residents dependent on fishing (AFP Photo/Marvin RECINOS) Atescatempa (Guatemala) (AFP) - The dried-out oyster shells lie on a landscape parched and cracked by the sun. This is what is left of Lake Atescatempa, once a vast blue-green body of water in southwestern Guatemala. Now the lake is dying, a conspicuous victim of the climate change that is projected to profoundly and irreversibly affect Central America. A prolonged drought descended on the region last year, shriveling two rivers that feed into Lake Atescatempa, and with it the flow of tourists to the area and the livelihood of residents. "We have no more money coming in, nowhere to work. Our hopes for eating fish or supporting our families, that came from the lake," explained Juan Guerra, a 56-year-old who has lived his whole life by the lake. Today however the lake's shore is dotted with abandoned boats left high and dry. Wilman Estrada, an unemployed 17-year-old wearing jeans and a T-shirt who for the past nine years lived off fishing here, sat by one of the last puddles. "It makes you want to cry," he said, casting a despondent gaze at the rainless sky. Other locals said they began noticing water levels starting to shrink three years ago. And the weather forecast for Central America offers no relief. From July, El Nino -- the irregular weather system that raises the temperature of the Pacific Ocean and causes droughts in some regions -- could return. "Climate change is really affecting the lives and future of these countries and those of our children in Central America," said Hector Aguirre, coordinator of Mancomunidad Trinacional, a group representing towns and villages around the junction of the borders of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The "Dry Corridor," a zone that runs along the Pacific coast from Guatemala to Panama, felt the brunt of the last burst of El Nino. In 2016, the weather phenomenon left 3.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Crop production from vulnerable small growers shrank badly. "El Nino, bolstered by climate change, has made the Dry Corridor one of the most vulnerable areas on the planet," Aguirre said. His group has tried to mitigate the problem by training more than 2,000 farmers in how to diversify their crops, with the aim of guaranteeing food security. But malnutrition is already evident in some places, as in the village of La Ceiba Taquezal, in eastern Guatemala, where 114 families from the Ch'orti' people of the indigenous Maya population have long depended on coffee-growing to survive. Four years ago, a fungus called coffee rust devastated their coffee plantations, and with it their revenues. Hunger soon set in, most noticeably among children. With help from the Mancomunidad Trinacional and European Union financing, the families were given rations of flour, rice, beans and oil. Nutritionists gave advice on how to improve the quality of their diet by adding tomatoes, herbs and various local plants. "With the dishes we make from beans, rice and plants, we have managed to see the children starting to put on weight," said Marina Aldana, a 36-year-old mother of eight. But Aguirre noted that "these malnutrition problems are worse in indigenous communities for one simple reason: they are not a priority for the governments."
News Article | December 16, 2016
A major menace looms over us. In 2017, many more people could begin dying from common bacterial infections. As resistance to antibiotics booms, diseases from gonorrhoea to urinary tract infections are becoming untreatable – a situation that looks set to get worse as the world reaches a new tipping point next year. “We are about to reach the point where more antibiotics will be consumed by farm animals worldwide than by humans,” says Mark Woolhouse, at the University of Edinburgh, UK. This will mean more resistant bacteria, which could be a big threat. The livestock industry has long played down any risk to human health caused by using antibiotics in farming, but the danger is now accepted, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Colistin, a drug that is used more often in animals than people, is one example. It is now the only antibiotic left that works against some human infections, yet colistin resistance has developed, and spread worldwide in 2015. The European Medicines Agency says bacteria resistant to colistin probably arose in livestock, and that some EU countries could easily cut their use of this antibiotic 25-fold. The UN General Assembly has called for countries to encourage the best use of antibiotics. But it hasn’t yet called for specific measures, such as banning their use to assist livestock growth – rather than fight infections – which can promote resistance. At least agencies like the FAO are calling for change, says Woolhouse, as is China, where growing demand for meat has lead to soaring livestock production and resistance. But progress will require finding other ways to keep animals healthy, especially in poor countries where production is growing fastest and there are few alternatives. “Soon more antibiotics will be consumed by animals than by people” This article appeared in print under the headline “Antibiotic resistance hits crisis point”
News Article | October 25, 2016
Climate change has already begun to affect the world’s food production, a new report from the United Nations warns — and unless significant action is taken, it could put millions more people at risk of hunger and poverty in the next few decades. It’s a message that’s been emphasized over and over by climate scientists and has informed many of the UN’s sustainable development goals and positions on global food security. But this is the first time it’s been the primary focus of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s annual State of Food and Agriculture report, its flagship publication, which centers on a different topic each year. Recent subjects have included social protection and anti-poverty measures, innovation in family farming and designing food systems for better nutrition. The new 194-page report, just released Monday, is a testament to growing alarm among scientists and policymakers over the dire threat climate change poses to future food security. It describes a vicious cycle in which unsustainable farming practices contribute hefty greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere and drive more warming, which can then continue to hurt global crop production. Under a severe climate change scenario, the report points out, research suggests that 122 million more people could be living in extreme poverty by the year 2030 compared to a future with no climate change. Even under a low-impact climate scenario, this number could be as high as 35 million more people. “Hunger, poverty and climate change need to be tackled together,” said Food and Agriculture Organization director-general José Graziano da Silva, in a foreword to the new report. “This is, not least, a moral imperative as those who are now suffering most have contributed least to the changing climate.” Indeed, while the impact of climate change on agriculture is expected to become increasingly severe in all parts of the world post-2030, the report notes that the most vulnerable populations include producers in developing countries whose livelihoods depend on farming. Global declines in production may also radiate throughout the world in the form of higher food prices, placing a greater strain on already vulnerable low-income communities. According to the report, “meeting the goals of eradicating hunger and poverty by 2030, while addressing the threat of climate change, will require a profound transformation of food and agriculture systems worldwide.” The report describes a variety of adaptation and mitigation techniques that can help move this transformation forward. Agriculture, forestry and land use changes, taken as a whole, are responsible for about one fifth of all global greenhouse gas emissions, the report points out. So adopting more sustainable farming practices and preventing deforestation, which often takes place to clear land for agriculture, can help mitigate climate change from the ground up. And given the huge contributions of the meat industry alone — from the methane produced by cattle to the sheer amount of land and resources required to raise livestock — a push toward a more plant-based diet worldwide could also save substantial amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Preparation for the impact of climate change could include diversifying the types of crops farmers raise, researching and adopting more heat-resistant plant varieties and investing in better soil conservation techniques, which may help prevent some of the production losses expected in a warming world. All of these strategies will require greater investments from the international community, the report points out. It suggests that more of the funds intended for climate mitigation should be directed into the agriculture sector. Making these investments may be critical if the world is to meet the global climate goals set forward in the Paris Agreement — namely, keeping warming within at least a 2-degree temperature threshold. One recent study has suggested that greenhouse gas emissions from farming must fall by a billion tons per year by the year 2030 if the world is to stay on track. And, as the report points out, meeting climate goals will likely drastically reduce the food-related risks associated with future warming. In these ways, climate change, sustainable agriculture and global food security are inextricably bound up with one another, and efforts to tackle one have profound consequences for the others. The new report drives this point home just one day after World Food Day, celebrated on Sunday. It also comes at the start of the 43rd Committee on World Food Security meetings, convening in Rome this week. And in a Friday address to world leaders, Graziano da Silva reaffirmed the risk climate change poses to the global food supply. “We cannot allow the impacts of climate change to overshadow our vision of a world free of hunger and malnutrition, where food and agriculture contribute to improving the living standards of all, especially the poorest,” he said. “No one can be left behind.”
News Article | November 22, 2016
Bird flu is back, and it’s got nastier – for birds, at least. The H5N8 virus has spread into Europe and is killing wild birds as well as invading poultry farms – a major worry for farmers in the run-up to the festive season. So far the virus doesn’t seem to infect humans, but it is evolving. The current strain is descended from the H5N1 virus, which started killing poultry in China in 1996, and then people too. H5N1 exploded across east Asia in 2004 with the poultry trade, and then spread into Europe and Africa in 2006, thanks to migrating birds. Since then, the virus has lurked mainly in poultry, especially flu-vaccinated chickens in Asia that can carry the virus while being immune to it. So far, 452 people have died after catching it from poultry. But viruses like H5N1 have also been moving with migrating dabbling ducks like mallards, which are usually immune to it. Birds from all over Eurasia mingle in north-central Asia during the summer, swap viruses, then disperse back to Africa, Asia and Europe for the winter. This has recently allowed H5N1 to hybridise with other kinds of flu. “We do not know what is driving the plethora of H5s,” although changes in climate and migration may be involved, says Julio Pinto at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome. As Europe’s poultry farmers fatten up their geese and turkeys for Christmas, one hybrid of H5N1 is now giving them sleepless nights. H5N8 appeared in China in 2014, before spreading with migrating ducks into Japan, Korea and across Russia into north-western Europe, including the UK. It also reached Canada and the US, devastating poultry farms until it was stamped out. It now seems to be gone from North America, says David Swayne at the US National Poultry Research Center in Athens, Georgia. It appeared to cause few deaths in wild birds in 2014, and failed to reappear in Eurasia the following winter. But in June, H5N8 caused a mass die-off of wild birds in the Uvs-Nuur basin between Russia and Mongolia, a protected biodiversity hotspot. This time round H5N8 has spread west along northern and southern migration routes into India, the Middle East and Europe, as birds have escaped colder weather in recent weeks. The virus is expected to spread further as lakes freeze and ducks keep searching for open water. Dozens of farms in Denmark, Switzerland and Germany are now infected. Free-range poultry such as geese have now been moved indoors, away from wild birds. Turkeys are extremely susceptible to the virus, and 9000 turkeys were killed last week on an infected farm in Hungary, a country that produces many turkeys and geese for Christmas. Unlike the 2014 strain, the virus is also killing wild birds, including swans, gulls, grebes and tufted ducks. Ron Fouchier at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, says H5N8 has picked up new genes from flu strains in wild birds, which could be making it deadly to more species. The Friedrich Löffler Institute in Insel Riems, Germany, is now testing different species for susceptibility to the virus. While humans have so far escaped infection, the World Health Organization says the risk “cannot be excluded”. “You can’t be complacent about these viruses,” says Ab Osterhaus, head of the newly launched Research Center for Emerging Infections and Zoonoses in Hannover, Germany. Osterhaus’s team found that the 2014 H5N8 strain could infect ferrets, the mammal used to model human flu. And he points to the seemingly harmless H7N7 bird flu outbreak in the Netherlands in 2003 that infected hundreds and killed a vet. “We need to learn much more about the ecology of these viruses,” he says. “They might just die out in wild birds if they don’t sometimes spill over into big poultry populations.” Farmers fattening turkeys and geese for year-end feasts are hoping this week that they won’t be the ones to suffer the next spill-over. Read more: Five easy mutations to make bird flu a lethal pandemic
News Article | November 14, 2016
2016 will very likely be the hottest year on record and a new high for the third year in a row, according to the UN. It means 16 of the 17 hottest years on record will have been this century. The scorching temperatures around the world, and the extreme weather they drive, mean the impacts of climate change on people are coming sooner and with more ferocity than expected, according to scientists. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report, published on Monday at the global climate summit in Morocco, found the global temperature in 2016 is running 1.2C above pre-industrial levels. This is perilously close to to the 1.5C target included as an aim of the Paris climate agreement last December. The El Niño weather phenomenon helped push temperatures even higher in early 2016 but the global warming caused by the greenhouse gas emissions from human activities remains the strongest factor. “Another year. Another record,” said WMO secretary-general, Petteri Taalas. “The extra heat from the powerful El Niño event has disappeared. The heat from global warming will continue.” “Because of climate change, the occurrence and impact of extreme events has risen,” he said. “‘Once in a generation’ heatwaves and flooding are becoming more regular.” The WMO said human-induced global warming had contributed to at least half the extreme weather events studied in recent years, with the risk of extreme heat increasing by 10 times in some cases. “It is almost as if mother nature is making a statement,” said climate scientist Michael Mann, at Penn State University in the US. “Just as one of the planet’s two largest emitters of carbon has elected a climate change denier [Donald Trump] - who has threatened to pull out of the Paris accord - to the highest office, she reminds us that she has the final word.” “Climate change is not like other issues that can be postponed from one year to the next,” he said. “The US and world are already behind; speed is of the essence, because climate change and its impacts are coming sooner and with greater ferocity than anticipated.” The record-smashing heat led to searing heatwaves across the year: a new high of 42.7C was recorded in Pretoria, South Africa in January; Mae Hong Son in Thailand saw 44.6C on 28 April; Phalodi in India reached 51.0C in May and Mitribah in Kuwait recorded 54.0C in July. Parts of Arctic Russia also saw extreme warming - 6C to 7C above average. Arctic ice reached its equal second-lowest extent in the satellite record in September while warm oceans saw coral mortality of up to 50% in parts of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Extreme weather and climate related events have damaged farming and food security, affecting more than 60 million people, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere has also broken records in 2016, with May seeing the highest monthly value yet - 407.7 ppm - at Mauna Loa, in Hawaii. The forecast for 2017 is another very hot year, but probably not a record breaker. “As the El Niño wanes, we don’t anticipate that 2017 will be another record-breaking year,” said Dr Peter Stott at the UK’s Met Office. “But 2017 is likely to be warmer than any year prior to the last two decades because of the underlying extent of [human-caused] warming due to the increasing atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases.” However, another analysis released at the UN summit in Morocco showed that global carbon emissions have barely grown in the last three years, following decades of strong growth. The main reason is China burning less coal. Professor Corinne Le Quéré, at University of East Anglia in the UK, who led the analysis, said: “This third year of almost no growth in emissions is unprecedented at a time of strong economic growth. This is a great help for tackling climate change but it is not enough. Global emissions now need to decrease rapidly, not just stop growing.” The WMO’s temperature analysis combines the three main records, from the Met Office, Nasa and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and stretches back to 1880.
News Article | February 15, 2017
The armyworm has already caused damage to staple crops in Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Ghana, with reports also suggesting Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia are affected. Experts say it appears to be the first time that the "fall armyworm" species from the Americas has caused widespread damage in Africa. "So, farmers do not know really how to treat it," said David Phiri, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's coordinator for southern Africa. "Nobody seems to know how it reached Africa," he said, adding that it started in places like Nigeria and Togo, which had it last year. One theory is that the caterpillars arrived in Africa on commercial flights from South America or in plants imported from the region. The caterpillars eat maize, wheat, millet and rice—key food sources in southern and eastern Africa, where many areas are already struggling with shortages after the most severe drought in recent years. Experts from 13 countries will spend three days at the summit in the Zimbabwean capital forming a battle plan to defeat the pests. The armyworm is "spreading rapidly" in Africa and could threaten farming worldwide, the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI) warned last week. It said maize is particularly vulnerable to the larvae, which attack the crop's growing points and burrow into the cobs. Unlike the native African armyworm, the fall armyworm does not "march" along the ground in huge numbers seeking more food, the FAO said. "This sequence of outbreaks began in mid-December 2016 in Zambia," Kenneth Wilson, professor at Lancaster University in Britain, wrote in a briefing paper Monday. "It is now as far south as South Africa. Because armyworms feed on many of the staple food crops they have the potential to create food shortages in the region." The fall armyworm also attacks cotton, soybean, potato and tobacco fields. Chemical pesticides can be effective, but fall armyworms have developed resistance in their native Americas. "You use different methods. One of them is pesticides, another is to use biological control. Another is to use natural control, like digging trenches around the farm (or) natural predators, like birds, to eat those worms," said Phiri. "If it is a small level of the worms, it's easy to control, using pesticides. Otherwise, it's very difficult to control it, so they will have to use different methods—including sometimes burning the crops." Zimbabwe's deputy agriculture minister Davis Marapira confirmed to AFP that the pest had been detected in all of the country's 10 provinces. "The government is helping farmers with chemicals and spraying equipment," Marapira said. The FAO, which is hosting the Harare meeting, said armyworm outbreaks combined with current locust problems "could be catastrophic" as southern Africa has yet to recover from droughts caused by the El Nino climate phenomenon. In December, Zambia deployed its national air force to transport pesticides across the country so that fields could be sprayed.