Features

How armyworms can affect food security

KASUBA MULENGA
THEY were first reported to have broken out in Zambia’s border district of Chienge in Luapula Province over two months ago, but the article in this newspaper was ostensibly not taken earnestly.
Now the armyworms are fast spreading to other parts of the country, threatening food security at household and national levels. Before delving into the niceties of this discourse, it is imperative to fathom what armyworms are, why they are referred to as armyworms and how devastating they can be in terms of their impact on food security at various levels.
It is also of supreme consequence that we understand what food security means, its dimensions and how it can be sustained in a home, community, nation or region.
Firstly, armyworms are stout-bodied, hairless, striped caterpillars that chew the foliage of grasses and grain crops.
They are so named because of their habit of crawling in large numbers from field to field when they have exhausted their food supply.
As such, they have gigantic potential of sending the affected community, country or region into chronic food insecurity.
Chronic food insecurity thrives in conditions of extreme poverty, where there is no sustenance of food security over an extensively longer period.
Since the outbreak of the armyworms late last year, many people have been talking about how these pests can cripple the country’s food security if not contained without understanding what food security really entails.
Going by the 1996 World Food Summit held at the Food and Agriculture Organisation headquarters in Rome, Italy, food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and preferences for an active and healthy life.
Food security has four dimensions; physical availability of food, economic and physical access to food, food utilisation as well as stability of the aforementioned three scopes.
Physical availability simply means that food is supposed to be tangibly available for people to see and touch, it should not be a rumour that food is there. Economic and physical access means people should have incomes to enable them buy food, there should also be markets and food prices should be affordable.
Utilisation is mainly construed as the way the human body makes the most of the various nutrients in the food, whereas stability implies that a household, community, country or region has the other dimensions of food security sustained over a reasonably lengthy period.
Food security also goes with people’s preferences or choices for it to be sustained. In the case of Zambia, a considerable magnitude of the population prefers nsima to any other foodstuff. Zambians are so much into nsima that if one has not consumed it, they consider themselves as not having eaten a meal.
And nsima is made from maize, which is regrettably being wrecked by the infamous armyworms. This is lamentable in the sense that if not contained by fighting them head-on, the armyworms are likely to adversely affect Zambia’s food security.
The most probable offshoots of this dilemmatic scenario are things like malnutrition and other hunger-related ailments which can dig deep into state coffers.
That is why when President Lungu recently directed the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit to work with the Ministry of Agriculture to expeditiously tackle the problem of armyworms, the farming fraternity had a sigh of relief as this rekindled hopes of their maize crop being saved from obliteration.
So far, the government has disbursed K10.5 million to finance the countrywide operation aimed at eliminating the destructive pests which have infested about 90,000 hectares of land.
It is therefore disheartening to learn that 30 litres of the chemicals for spraying maize fields invaded by armyworms have inexplicably gone missing on the Copperbelt. Investigations into this gloomy happening should be done to their logical conclusion.
The countrywide operation to combat armyworms should not be politicised because it is beyond politics and should be treated as an emergency which all patriots of this country should contribute to in a myriad ways.
I am perturbed that since the armyworms broke out, many of our legislators have never taken time to visit their constituencies and help sensitise the constituents whose grain crops are under siege by the armyworms.
Surely, why should it take the Head of State to remind parliamentarians to go back to the people who voted for them and work together to efficaciously fight the pests? This should be an opportune moment for the lawmakers to ‘pay a courtesy call’ on the people who secured their comfortable seats in Parliament.
And for legislators who may not have gone back to their constituencies after the August 11 general elections probably for fear of being asked for money by the constituents, please take advantage of this poignant period to go there.
Believe you me, all the people will ask from you are the chemicals to spray their affected maize fields.
And since you have been avoiding your ‘masters’ for fear of being asked for something, this time around you can simply use your influence to ensure that the affected people access the chemicals being distributed by Government.
So please, go back to your respective constituencies to sensitise your voters on the need to spray their maize fields. Take advantage of this disaster because calamities like an outbreak of armyworms come once in a proverbial blue moon.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail features and supplements editor.

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