Soroti, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Farmers in Teso are counting losses after an invasion of caterpillars on sweet potato gardens in the districts of Ngora, Serere and Soroti.
The caterpillars were first sighted in Ngora district in a pest and disease surveillance report conducted by the Production and Marketing Department last month. In Ngora district, more than 90 acres have been affected by the caterpillar invasion in the villages of Agule, Kopege, Agu, Orit, Kopelu, Ngora, Kees and Angod among others.
The sweet potatoes caterpillar, scientifically known as pink-spotted hawkmoth or sweet potato hornworm, feed on the leaf blade of potato vines, causing large irregular holes, and may start feeding on the leaf edges eventually eating the entire leaf blade, leaving only the petiole.
According to the report by Simon Peter Okore, the agricultural officer at Ngora sub county where the pests first ravaged, the caterpillars population is very high and has affected almost all the sweet potato gardens inspected.
“These caterpillars have eaten all the leaves causing severe defoliation of the plants and generally the yields will be affected since the plants are still young”, the report reads.
Okore indicates in his report that the pests are extremely sluggish, moving only enough to reach a new leaf after one has been consumed.
Mary Acham, a resident of Tididiek in Ngora says that the caterpillars have eaten her only garden of potatoes intended to feed her family of eight people.
“That garden was the only hope for my family,” she said. “I have been buying food for two months following the dry spell that lasted several months and started harvesting potatoes about three weeks ago but these caterpillars have taken us back.”
Damali Asekenye, the District Agricultural Officer at Serere says about 20 percent of the households in the district have so far reported the existence of caterpillars in their potato gardens. She says the caterpillars are spread to almost every sub county across the district.
Asekenye says the caterpillar outbreak always follows the dry spell which hit the district for almost five months. She also notes that it is not the first time for the district to register caterpillar attacks.
Mike Odong L’asio, the Ngora district chairperson says that caterpillar attacks add to the several challenges faced by the community in the district.
“A number of people were recovering from the drought that hit the district for months,” he said. “We had almost half of the population starving because of drought and sweet potatoes were the only hope for many families. In addition to the effects of COVID-19, the situation can only be saved by timely response from the line ministries.”
Sweet potatoes come second to cassava in supporting livelihoods in Teso, used both as food and also for earning income when sold.