Only the locust strikes more terror in the heart of the African farmer than the army worm. But the army worm is on the march again in East Africa.
In just a few days in February, more than 20,000 hectares (about 45,500 acres) of maize, millet, rice, and pasture beside Lake Victoria were destroyed. Huge outbreaks also have been reported next door in Tanzania.
With heavy rains falling in Kenya and Tanzania, the infestation is expected to spread.
So serious are the worm outbreaks that the Desert Locust Control Organization of Eastern Africa has formed a special army worm forecasting unit. The unit compiles weekly reports of larvae outbreaks from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and the Sudan.
The moths that eventually produce the worms can fly long distances at night. The worm unit says a farmer can wake up in the morning and find his entire crop alive with caterpillars, eating and eating.
Young plants are most prone to attack. Older plants can recover. Serverely damaged fields require replanting.
At night the moths can be monitored with light and synthetic-odor traps. Farmers are trying to destroy the worm problem with a virus control called ''wilt'' and with DDT. The worms' enemies - birds, wasps, and Tachina flies--may help, too. They are attracted to worm-outbreak areas.