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Zimbabwe: Stakeholders raise red flag over FAW threat to maize production

Twin perils of FAW and prolonged dry spell likely to reduce cereal yield

Maize cob destroyed by the fall armyworm. ©FAO/EdwardOgolla

02 March 2018, Harare - Stakeholders in the agriculture sector in Zimbabwe have raised a red flag, saying the presence of fall armyworm in all provinces in the country will dent cereal yields for the 2017-2018 cropping season. The presence of the pest, the second season after it first emerged in 2016, coupled with a prolonged dry spell, will increase food and nutrition vulnerability.

Speaking during a fall armyworm information dissemination organised by FAO in Zimbabwe, stakeholders said smallholder farmers were grappling on how best to manage the pest. This is the second information dissemination session on fall armyworm during the 2017-2018 season.

In her presentation during the information session, Joyce Mulila-Mitti, FAO Plant Production and Protection Officer for Southern Africa, said key pillars on which to hinge the management of the new pest have been identified. Mulila-Mitti told the information session attended by Government officials, development partners, non-governmental organisations, researchers and private sector players, that one of the key pillars was giving support to training and awareness creation. This included the implementation of community-based integrated pest management programme and use of farmers’ field schools.

“It is also important to pursue good agronomic practices, which include planting time, optimal soil nutrient amendments and intercropping. Additionally, it is vital to use adapted and tested tolerant or resistant varieties,” said Mulila-Mitti.

Mulila-Mitti added that there is potential for use of classical biological control where possible while in the meantime, farmers are encouraged to use indigenous natural enemies and only revert to use of appropriate chemical pesticides as a last resort.  

An official from the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement’s Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX), Rutendo Nhongonhema, said some of the challenges faced by farmers included lack of information to positively identify the pest. She said farmers were failing to differentiate between fall armyworm, chilo, stock-borer, and African armyworm—leading to wrong control strategies.

Nhongonhema added that the use of chemicals, in cases where farmers decided to spray, was an additional cost as chemical control was very expensive at around US$100 per hectare.

There is still insufficient funding to specifically address the pest threat and the full adaptation dynamics of the pest are still to be understood. The potential damage posed by the pest raises fears that the cereal production will fall this season and the region will relapse into a deficiency.

Southern Africa registered a 43 percent increase in maize production last season and the total produced was more than required for domestic consumption for the first time in five years. However, a recent Special Alert by the Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS) showed that the higher stock levels should be able to partly cushion the effects of the forecasted production decreases. 

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