THE warning is here, and it reads pretty serious.
According to the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI), one of the departments in the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, whose overall objective is to provide a high quality, appropriate and cost effective service to farmers, army worms are here to stay.
The reason is simple: the army worms have found Zambia’s climatic conditions ideal for breeding.
We all remember how the armyworms threatened the country’s food security by almost wiping out maize fields in many provinces of the country.
The situation was alarming, particularly on the Copperbelt.
President Lungu had to direct the Zambia Air Force (ZAF) to help airlift pesticides to fight the outbreak, which was the country’s first major attack since 2012, when armyworms cut the corn harvest by about 11 percent.
The farmers whose crops had been destroyed had to go for the early-maturing maize seeds to save the farming season.
Zambia’s maize output last year climbed 9.7 percent to 2.87 million metric tons.
It could have been worse without government putting in place some measures.
Agriculture makes up almost 10 percent of the economy, and about half of all employed people work on farms, mainly growing maize, which is the country’s staple crop.
Therefore, anything that threatens the performance of the agriculture sector must be treated with the seriousness that it deserves.
We are happy that ZARI has recognised that need. The advice it has sounded out is timely.
The department says the country should expect another outbreak of the fall armyworms during the forthcoming farming season and there is need therefore for urgent strategies on how to manage the pest.
Those singled out for worry are the small-scale farmers who have been told to start preparing to combat the possible outbreak of the perilous army worms by budgeting not only for seed and fertilizers, but also for the purchase of pesticides to manage the fall armyworms.
As rightly observed, unlike commercial farmers that budget for chemicals too, small-scale farmers hardly do so. They normally do not look beyond seed and fertilizer.
It is, therefore, good that Government is already on course to help sensitise farmers on the possible outbreak of army worms during the 2017/2018 farming season.
But in welcoming the timely alert issued by ZARI, we would also like to urge the meteorological department to give weather forecasts that are specific in the face of changing climatic conditions. These specific weather forecast reports are a prerequisite to farmers country-wide.
This was the point Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) national technical coordinator Misael Kokwe was making when he made a key note address on Climate Smart Agriculture at the just ended Agricultural Productivity Program for Southern Africa (APPSA) annual national science meeting at the Government Complex in Lusaka.
We are agree that in the face of climate change, we do not need weather forecasts that are not specific. Like he said, statements like ‘we will have rains and showers in various places’ do not really assist anyone, particularly the farmers.
Why not mention the places that will have those rains or showers?
Like he said, agriculture is one of the principal sectors to which the metrological department provides daily, medium and long-term forecasts and services.
Therefore, the metrological department should see itself as being partners with farmers.