(Colombo) REUTERS: Sri Lanka is facing what could be its worst pest infestation in history, potentially cutting the country’s rice and maize output and forcing the island nation to import the commodities, government officials said on Friday.
Crop-eating army worms, first confirmed in October, have spread across the country and damaged crops, they said.
The pest has damaged half of the country’s 80,000 hectares of maize and it has also infected rice and vegetable crops, W.M.W. Weerakoon, director general of agriculture, told Reuters.
More than 100 crops, including vegetables have become infested with the armyworm, Weerakoon said.
“We have never experienced this kind of damage in the past,” he said, adding the government is trying to find out the source of the pest attack.
Authorities have found traces of the pest in about two hectares of rice, but they have successfully stopped the spread of the worm, he said. Lower output could trigger large-scale imports of essential food products, pushing up the country’s import bill and deepening a balance of payments crisis, S. Attygala, central bank deputy governor, said.
So far conventional chemicals used in pest management have failed to check the spread, authorities said.
The government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will give Rs.40, 000 per hectare to farmers to compensate for their losses. President Maithripala Sirisena has established a task force to help control the pest.
Sri Lanka in November forecast a bumper 3.3 million tonnes of rice production in the November-February cultivation season, after intermittent floods and droughts in the past four years cut the country’s crops and economic growth.
Many sectors in Sri Lanka have suffered because of the political crisis that hit the island country in November when Sirisena fired Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister.