Soil pests are defined as those in which the damaging stage of the life cycle lives in the soil. In Africa the most important soil insect pests are termites, followed by the larvae of various beetles (particularly scarabs), and by millipedes which are included here as they damage plants in a similar way to some insects.
The most important cereals in Africa are maize, sorghum and millet, with wheat and rice increasing in importance. Attack by soil pests usually begins on the root system and yield losses result from plant mortality, lowered translocation of water and nutrients, increased susceptibility to pathogens, or lodging with subsequent damage to grain on the ground from various vertebrates, invertebrates and saprophytes.
Data have often been presented as ‘percentage of plants damaged’ or ‘infested’ and bear little relationship to yield loss, as this depends on the severity and timing of attack. A succession of soil pests can attack the plants from seedling to maturity. Early season attacks can result in compensatory growth by remaining plants leading to overestimation of yield loss by simple estimates of plants damaged. Direct estimation of yield loss is time-consuming and few such studies have been made. However, methods are presented here for termites and maize which could be adapted for other pests and crops. Indirect estimates using pesticides are more common and, in general, indicate that an integrated pest management approach to soil pests is required.