Zambia’s 2016/17 maize crop is under threat from pests, this time a combination of armyworms and maize stalk borers.
In 2012, armyworms ate their way through large parts of Zambia, destroying sprouting maize, grassland and even football pitches in seven provinces (Central, Copperbelt, Northern, Muchinga, Eastern, Lusaka and Southern). This time, the armyworms are joined by maize stalk borers, and reports of one or the other were reported in nine provinces (Central, Copperbelt, Eastern, Luapula, Lusaka, Muchinga, Northern, Northwestern and Southern). Only Western Province seems unaffected.
Government has swung into action, with President Lungu in the lead, as Agriculture Minister Dora Siliya was on vacation (see page 8). He directed the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) to join hands with the Ministry of Agriculture to control the outbreak, and the Zambia Air Force was brought in to airlift pesticides to the entire country. Later, the Zambia National Service got involved in the logistics on the ground, and Lungu also appealed to all MPs to help raise awareness about armyworms in their constituencies.
Government encouraged farmers to replant with early maturing maize varieties, explaining that it would only provide free pesticides and seed to the poorest and/or worst affected farmers.
A total of K30.8 million was reportedly released for the exercise, of which about K20 million had been used by 10 January, according to Siliya, who had by then returned.
Government distributed almost 61,000 litres of pesticides to spray about 95,000 hectares.
As at 10 January, the authorities estimated that 124,000 hectares had been affected countrywide, out of a total planted area of about 1.4 million hectares.
Government has set up a toll-free 909 line for farmers to report any new sightings of worms or borers, and in turn receive correct information about their control. However, by 4 January, the DMMU deemed that the outbreak of armyworms was under control.