Editor's Comment

Armyworms must fall

ZAMBIA is yet again faced with multiple threats on its staple food – maize. This calls for redoubled efforts to overcome the challenges. It has been done before, it should be done again.
The threats of poor or late distribution of inputs to some parts of the country, too much or too little rains in other parts and smuggling have now been compounded by an invasion of the fall armyworms in various productive regions.
The pride of consistently producing surplus maize to the country’s need is under threat.
As a staple food, maize (mealie meal) is dominant on most households’ menus and makes up about 90 percent of the country’s food energy intake.
At between 1.7 tonnes and 2.5 tonnes per hectare, maize is the most cultivated crop per area in the country in comparison to other crops such as groundnuts, sunflower, cotton, soyabeans, wheat, burley tobacco, Virgina tobacco, rice, sorghum, millet, mixed beans, among others.
However, the cultivation of maize is under threat from extenuating circumstances such as climate change, late delivery of inputs and now the fall armyworms.
This invasive insect pest has spread through 44 countries in Africa.
It spreads very quickly if not checked on time.
The pest poses a serious threat to the bumper harvests the country has been recording in the past.
A total of 59,993 hectares of land have already been affected by the outbreak of the fall armyworm in the country. The danger of it spreading is real.
Over 73,000 households have been affected by the outbreak of the armyworms so far and this has resulted in 46 districts and 521 agriculture camps sending out distress calls.
If unchecked, the armyworms may spread and cause untold damage to the maize and breech Zambia’s food securty.
The damage could result in the country having a yield gap between areas infected by the armyworms and those without.
Because of the threat they pose to food security, the fight against armyworms should be prioritised by coming up with preventive and control measures.
This entails the Ministry of Agriculture playing both a foresight and hindsight role by ensuring that armyworms which seem to have come to stay, are contained.
The Ministry of Agriculture should work with research institutions such as the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute, the University of Zambia and other partners to come up with a strategy of overcoming the armyworms sustainably in the manner it has done with other pests.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), and the United States Development Agency (USAID) are always there to help out.
FAO has been helping Government with technical and financial support from FAO to establish early warning and surveillance systems to enhance preparedness against the fall armyworms.
This system captures and shares data within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and Africa as a whole.
That is why by now the country should have had options of dealing with the armyworm. One of the options is manufacturing chemicals locally so that they are readily available and cheaper.
Imported chemicals have tended to be very expensive and beyond the reach of most desperate peasant farmers who have in the past resorted to using other means such as detergent soaps and ashes.
Importing also means that the country is spending foreign exchange and may not buy the desired quantities of chemicals.
For instance, Government has procured over 40,000 litres of Nimbicidine, a biochemical, at a cost of US$500,000 in an effort to contain the fall armyworms.
However, the increased rainfall will reduce the armyworms to minimum levels.
Our scientific community should rise to the occasion and prove their relevance in areas such as the fight against armyworms.
We hope that the National Council for Science and Technology, the National Institute for Scientific Research and the Junior Scientists Technicians and Scientists, among others, will be challenged to help find a solution to the armyworms.
For now, it is good that there has been quick action in efforts to counter the army of worms. It is important though that the chemicals are distributed quickly to the needy areas.
Also important is that the farmers, especially the peasants, are provided with the appropriate knowledge and equipment such as sprayers to effectively repel the armyworms.
If need be, let the green army – the Zambia National Service – yet again be mobilised for this exercise.
The armyworms are a threat that just must be stopped.

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