The Armyworm in Malawi is destroying crops. Picture: Source

LILONGWE, Jan 12 - Malawi, which was hit by a crippling drought last year, has become the third southern African nation to report an outbreak of armyworms, a voracious pest that devours maize and other crops.

"We have a reported invasion this week but we are confident in dealing with this because we have pesticides," Malawi's Minister of Agriculture George Chaponda told Reuters late Wednesday.

"We have been able to deal with such issues in the past."

The current outbreak is around Zomba, the former colonial capital in southern Malawi. A year ago, Malawi successfully contained an armyworm invasion that affected seven districts across the country.

The armyworms are caterpillars that "march" across the landscape in large groups feasting on young maize plants, wiping out entire fields.

Malawi's maize crop, the staple grain for the impoverished, land-locked nation, was devastated last year by an El Nino-triggered drought.

Around 6.5 million Malawians, over a third of the population, are dependent on food aid until this year's harvest in March, according to the United Nations' World Food Programme.

(Reporting by Mabvuto Banda; Writing by Ed Stoddard; Editing by Randy Fabi)