Caterpillar invasion threatens Liberia’s flora

Hordes of caterpillars are destroying crops and vegetation in Liberia, in what is being described by the United Nations as ‘Liberia’s worst plague in 30 years’. The caterpillar plague is posing a major threat to the already precarious food security situation in the country and the wider region. As a result of the global credit crunch, prices of rice have more than doubled in the past year, making life extremely difficult in Liberia.

The caterpillars, two to three centimetres in length and described by villagers as “black, creeping and hairy,” are advancing in the tens of millions, devouring all plants and food crops in their path and in some cases overrunning homes and buildings.

FFI’s Liberia Programme Manager, Stephen Van der Mark, commented:

“This plague of caterpillars is extremely worrying for the people of Liberia, where food scarcity is a very real problem. It also poses a threat to the country’s wild flora and if unchecked could impact Liberia’s forest ecosystems.

“It is thought the caterpillar invasion may have been provoked by Liberia’s unusually long wet summer. Although in this case a link to climate change has not been established, as our global climate warms we can expect to see more such disruptions to the patterns of nature around the world.”

Since 1997, Fauna & Flora International has made Liberia the central pillar of its West African programme. In 2001 we were the first international environmental group to establish an office in the country.

Today, we intervene at two levels in Liberia. First we are establishing a sound management structure at Sapo National Park and empowering rural Liberians by establishing communal forests. Second, we are working at the national level to review and adapt forestry sector legislation to incorporate and balance community, conservation and commercial interests.