ZAMBIA, like many other southern African nations, has in the past farming seasons experienced devastating pest attacks threatening food security.
The country has been devastated by pests like armyworms, stalk borers and red locusts which have infested particularly the staple crop – maize – in past seasons.
During the 2016/2017 farming season, the country was invaded by more deadly pests known as Fall armyworms. These are different from the African armyworms that attacked maize fields the season before.
Unlike the usual armyworms which only eat leaves, the Fall armyworms eat both leaves and the stalk, causing extensive damage. In some instances it also causes direct damage to the grains due to larvae feeding.
Last year more than 172,000 hectares of maize fields, in all 10 provinces, were ravaged by Fall armyworms and the cost of bringing the situation under control ran into millions of Kwacha.
In 2016 the country also experienced one of the most devastating tomato pests outbreaks in Kafue. The pests, which attack tomato production, whether protected, or open fields, are very challenging to control.
It is indisputable that pest outbreaks are devastating given the impact on food security and the cost of bringing the situation under control.
What is of even more concern is that these pest outbreaks have no respect for national boundaries and are becoming increasingly unpredictable due to climate change.
According to agriculture experts in the country, there is a likelihood of another pest outbreak in the 2017/2018 farming season.
Given the unpredictable and continued threats of pest attacks, it is imperative that measures are put in place to safeguard crops.
It is heartening that timely action has been taken by the Centre for Agricultural Bio-science International (CABI) with support from the United Kingdom (UK)’s Partnership Programme to launch a €6.3 million pest risk information service centre.
The centre is aimed at helping Zambian farmers protect their crops from destruction through use of advanced technology which equips them with information on how to deal with any form of pest outbreaks.
CABI is expected to provide pest risk predictions in time to enable the farmers to take preventive measures and increase resilience to pest outbreaks.
This is indeed important considering that last season’s pest outbreak was exacerbated by failure to identify the kind of pests early and subsequently using the right pesticides.
“This initiative is a timely intervention that will support the needs of farmers in relation to handling pests. With the right information disseminated, crops can be protected,” said British High Commissioner to Zambia Fergus Cochrane-Dyet during the launch of the initiative.
Through this centre, farmers will now be able to access early warning information on where the pests are likely to break out, making it easy for them to devise appropriate mitigation strategies.
It is heartening too that under the same initiative, Zambia Agriculture Research Institute, with support from CABI, has trained 300 extension officers in 41 districts countrywide.
The extension officers are foot soldiers who will ensure that farmers are well equipped with information on farming and pest attacks.
We are optimistic that if well implemented, the initiative will help boost the country’s food basket by reducing loss of crops through pest attacks.
We urge farmers to heed Mr Cochrane-Dyet’s advice to work closely with CABI and other corresponding partners in addressing pest attacks.
Farmers need to be proactive by reporting any suspected pests in their farms and seeking information on pest trends.
With such interventions it is expected that Zambia will increase its crop yields, thereby contributing to attaining the Sustainable Development Goal number two, which focuses on ending hunger, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture by 2030.