By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA, March 24 (Reuters) - Crop-eating caterpillars known as fall armyworms have started spreading across Uganda, authorities said on Friday, raising fears for the surrounding East Africa region already devastated by drought.
The pests have appeared in about 20 districts in mostly central and western areas and attacked about 40 percent of the maize in some zones, the agriculture ministry said.
Their attacks and could potentially wipe out 11 percent of the country's annual four-million-metric-ton output of the crop and sugarcane fields had also suffered damage, the ministry added.
Some countries with confirmed outbreaks have faced bans on exporting their agricultural products.
"Uganda is already struggling to cope ... coming from a bad season ... This is an additional burden," Massimo Castiello, deputy country representative for U.N. agency Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), told Reuters.
The caterpillar is native to North and South America, though it has already spread to other parts of Africa including Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Africa, Namibia, Mozambique and Democratic Republic of Congo.
The United Nations fears it could reach Asia and the Mediterranean in the next few years. (Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Aaron Maasho and Andrew Heavens)
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