Columnists Features

Achieving food security with crop diversification

AS EARLY as 04:00 am, Dorcas Mwansa wakes up to start preparing for the day’s work, to check on how her maize field is coming up.
Ms Mwansa, a former teacher retired and used part of her money to start farming in her home area of Mwense district.
She is looking forward to harvesting especially that the last two years all went well. She sold her maize to the Food Reserve Agency, remained with plenty more for her household and she is a beneficiary of the Fertiliser Input Support Programme (FISP).
However, this year she was disturbed when she noticed small insects that invaded her four hectare maize field.
“I immediately went to our camp zonal and reported the matter, the officers came and inspected my field and sent word to the agriculture department. The agriculture officers came, after inspection they told me my maize field has been invaded by stalk borers,” she said.
To Ms Mwansa, the word stalk borers is something she has heard and read about and never imagined she would have to deal with them.
After a week, agriculture officers sprayed her field and two weeks later, all the insects were wiped out of her maize field.
The question that farmers in Mwense and Kawambwa kept on asking was what was the stalk borers, where do they come from.
For Mwense farmers however, they are lucky because the Mambilima member of Parliament (MP) Dennis Wanchinga is a scientist specialised in Entomology which is the study of insects.
Following the directive by President Lungu for MPs to visit their constituencies following armyworms that ravaged maize fields, Dr Wanchinga took time to explain to farmers in his constituency what stalk borers are.
Stalk borers are insects that cause damage to maize by feeding on young leaves from where they can enter the stems. This may kill the plant. In older plants, their feeding can damage the plant and reduce grain production.
The insect belongs to the Noctuidae family of moths, which includes the cutworms and armyworms. As its name indicates, the larvae of the stalk borer enter the stalks and stems and feed within the plants.
Dr Wanchinga told farmers that intercropping maize with non-host crops like cassava or legumes like cowpea and beans can reduce maize stalk borer damage.
However, both Mwense and Kawambwa districts have received 425 litres each of cypermetheline chemicals used to wipe out stalk borers from maize fields.
A check in maize fields that were sprayed in December 2016, the insects had been wiped out.
Dr Wanchinga who was on the ground to inspect maize field was happy that agriculture officers in his constituency has managed to control stalk borers in maize fields.
“The quantity of chemicals that have been sent to the area was adequate to get rid of stalk borers that had invaded maize fields.
“I am urging farmers in the constituency to be alert and report to the department of agriculture any resurgence of the pests so that it can be dealt with quickly,” he said.
Others who joined in spraying maize fields was Mwense district commissioner Geoffrey Chipampata , Council Chairperson Richard Kamfwanka and other heads of department in Mwense district.
The stalk borer destroyer as they call him, District Agriculture Coordinator (DACO) Ng’onga Musonda said so far the district has managed to spray 1,575 hectares of maize fields that were ravaged by stalk bores and the pests are dying.
Mr Musonda said between 80 and 90 farmers in Mwense district had their fields sprayed. He said the only challenge they were facing is inadequate spraying containers.
Mr Musonda was full of praise for Dr Wanchinga for rushing to the constituency to be part of the team to spray maize fields and responding to President Lungu call to MPs to go back to their constituencies to access the effect of stalk borers and armyworms.
Dr Wanchinga also bought fuel for agriculture officers worth K500 who had challenges to reach far flung areas of the district to distribute chemicals to farmers.
In Kawambwa district, Senior Chief Mushota praised the government for providing leadership and guidance in the fight against stalk borers that have ravaged maize fields in the country.
Chief Mushota said the leadership of the government in power is exemplary. “The government through the able leadership of President Lungu has demonstrated that it is committed to ensuring the country’s food security is secured by acting quickly to combat army worms.
“It is encouraging that President Lungu has been leading the fight against armyworms, a clear indication that he is a caring man with a heart to uplift Zambians out of poverty,” he said.
Chief Mushota urged the local leadership in the district to quicken the distribution and spraying of chemicals so that maize does not go to wastage.
“We are happy that the chemicals have been sent on time although we needed 1,000 litres, we have received 420 litres of chemicals. We have mobilised sprayers from district medical office and Zaffico to help with the spraying of maize fields in the area,” said Kawambwa district commissioner Ivor Mpasa.
While in Kawambwa and Mwense stalk borers have infested maize fields, other parts of the country maize fields are affected by army worms, threatening food security.
Dr Wanchinga’s advice to farmers is that crop diversification is a solution to food security.

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