Fear has engulfed communities surrounding Traditional Authority Mkula in Machinga district following the fainting of a girl whom they believe had been affected by a pest that attacks blue gum trees.
The pest, Red Gum Lerp Psyllid which is scientifically known as Glycaspis brimblecombe, has attacked Blue Gum trees in many parts of the country.
When Malawi24 visited the area, Group Village Headman (GVH) Kalanje told this reporter that a girl from Chowe village in his area was about to die after taking in food which had the pests on it.
He added that people in his area are living in fear because these same pests have been causing chickens to die once they eat them.
“People are losing their chickens due to these pests and one girl in my village fainted when she ate a bun infected by the pests,” he said.
Kalanje explained that villagers did not take the girl to hospital but they instead gave her diluted salt as treatment and she was relieved.
There have been reports across the country that Red Gum Lerp Psyllid is poisonous and causes deaths among people and other animals.
However, Entomology, Plants Protection and Forestry Research Officer for Forestry Research Institute of Malawi (FRIM), Davie Moyo, described the claim as misleading.
Moyo confirmed that his office has been receiving these reports but he was quick to say that the allegations have no evidence and it is not true.
“A lot of rumours have been circulating about the pest ranging from causing diseases and deaths but the truth is that it is not true as the information is lacking backing evidence,” he said.
The symptoms of infestation include dropping of leaves and drying of leading shoots. Heavy infestations can lead to total leaf defoliation and eventually death of the tree.
The pest outbreak was reported in South Africa in 2011, Zimbabwe in 2013 and Malawi in 2015.
It is believed that the increased movement of goods and people between countries across the globe enhance the spread of the pest.