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'The worst experience of my life'

Caterpillars consuming leaves in Liberia
The army worms are among the world's most destructive pests
The plague of armyworm caterpillars in Liberia has affected some 400,000 people and the UN warns of a second wave of infestations.

Farmer and village chief Richard Kerkula from Larwoi, in Bong county near the Guinean border, describes how the worms invaded his fields.

It was early in the morning three weeks ago. As usual, I went out to inspect the crop on my land where I grow cocoa beans and banana.

I was met by a horrible sight. The leaves of my banana plants and the cocoa trees were covered in black caterpillars. They were moving around, eating the leaves.

There were thousands of them. There was no smell but their munching was making an unpleasant rustling sound.

These type of caterpillar are foreign to our area.

I had heard of armyworms attacking Liberian crops many years ago, but never seen anything like this before.

Even though they weren't eating the bananas and the cocoa beans, I knew that my crops would be destroyed. If the leaves go, the plant cannot yield good crops.

Too late

I immediately contacted the local authorities. After six days, men from the Ministry of Agriculture came to spray my land.

The spraying killed the caterpillars, but it was already too late. Seventy-five percent of my crops had been destroyed.

Map

The worms defecated in the village creek. We knew we shouldn't drink water from there once the worms had polluted it, so we dug boreholes around the creek and collected water from there.

The armyworm invasion has hit me incredibly hard financially.

I cannot get any credit for my crops now as the fields will hardly yield anything once harvest time comes around.

This is the worst experience I've had in my lifetime. I'm really not a happy man at the moment but I've had to put my emotions aside and deal with this.

Before this happened, my farm was doing well. My family and I had two good meals every day. At the moment we are surviving on rice we had in reserve.

I have eight children, the youngest is five. I have no idea how to pay for their food, school uniforms and general upkeep in the future.

If the government doesn't grant me a loan, by August we'll be in a really bad situation.

Evacuate

Other people in my village were hit even harder than me. The caterpillars entered their houses in great numbers because they like to be in the shade. They were under people's beds, everywhere.

The owners of the house had to evacuate their homes for several days, while the authorities sprayed inside.

I've told people in my village to clear the area of bushes and trees outside their houses. That way, if the worms ever come back, at least they won't get into people's bedrooms again.

If the authorities had been able to get to my land earlier and spray the worms with insecticide, perhaps more could have been saved. But it took them a while to get here because the roads in Liberia are still bad.

That's because of the civil war we've had in this country. And I'm not angry with my current government for the delay in spraying; they did what they could under the circumstances.

I've been told that the government is putting a team together to see if they can help the affected farmers financially.

When I look at my field today, it looks as if the dry season has already set in. Normally that would happen at the end of March, and it's still only January.

The trees are bare, all the leaves are gone.

I don't regret becoming a farmer because that's the tradition in my family. But I hope we can get through this somehow.

I will really have to tighten my belt.



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SEE ALSO
Liberia faces second worm wave
29 Jan 09 |  Africa
Liberia worms swarm 'emergency'
27 Jan 09 |  Africa
Country profile: Liberia
26 Nov 08 |  Country profiles
Little dung beetle is big chopper
21 Jan 09 |  Science & Environment

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