Zambia battles insect pest threatening staple food crops

Ear of maize destroyed by Larger Grain Borer


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A major campaign has been launched in Zambia to combat an insect pest of farm-stored products that has spread rapidly across the country, destroying stocks of maize and cassava, the two most important staple foods in the local diet.

The pest, the Larger Grain Borer (LGB), is now threatening household food security in many areas of the country, especially in Central, southern Lusaka, Copper Belt, Eastern, Northern and Luapula provinces. In Zambia, approximately 70 percent of the maize is produced by small- and medium-scale farmers who use traditional storage methods.

"It has been hectic here in Zambia as LGB spotfires are appearing all over the country", reports Lindsay Semple, an FAO consultant working on Zambia's National LGB Containment and Control Programme (NLCCP).

First reported in Zambia in 1993, LGB had been restricted to the Nakonde District of Northern Province bordering Tanzania. But, in the autumn of 1995, massive quantities of LGB-infested maize were imported from Tanzania to offset a maize shortage brought about by three years of drought. An avalanche of infested maize poured into Zambia and was distributed as famine relief across the country (sometimes by helicopters to reach inaccessible areas), along the entire line of road/rail routes southward to Livingstone and to areas bordering Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique.

To aggravate the situation, the government liberalized maize marketing at the same time. This led to an influx of traders, many of whom knew nothing of procedures and regulations to prevent the spread of pests and diseases, moving maize where supplies were short and prices high. Much of the maize they trucked across the country was infested with LGB.

The Government of Zambia quickly established the National LGB Containment and Control Programme in response to this mass influx of LGB. Its principal thrust is to develop an Integrated Pest and Commodity Management Strategy so that small-scale farmers are able to control LGB and other storage pests. Some control options for small-scale farmers include:

  • using improved storage structures, such as brick bin and cement-plastered basket, and preventing cross-infestation, from the field, the wooden store structure, and from residues remaining in stores between harvests;
  • changing traditional storage practices from on-the-cob, to storing shelled maize in areas where LGB predominates;
  • using approved chemicals for protecting grains that are effective against LGB and other grain storage pests.

In the medium to long term, biological methods will be used to significantly reduce the severity of LGB infestations, including the release of the predatory beetle Teretriosoma nigrescens, which feeds exclusively on LGB larvae and pupae. The beetle, mass-reared at Mount Makulu Central Research Station near Lusaka, has been released at certain infested locations, and these releases are scheduled to continue. The predator is expected to significantly reduce LGB populations both in the field and in the stores.

FAO has been appointed the coordinating agency for all donor-financed projects relating to Zambia's LGB control programme. In a first step, FAO has provided funding for a project that will formulate the control programme's management strategy, train field staff in management techniques and establish an effective countrywide Early Warning and Monitoring (EWM) network for LGB.

So far, the EWM network has been established in six of the affected provinces of Zambia to monitor the extent of spread as well as LGB fluctuations. Trapping data collected at these points will be compiled and collated at district, province and national levels to identify the most appropriate places to release the predatory Teretriosoma nigrescens.
Other FAO projects have launched extension and awareness campaigns and distributed local-language posters and leaflets on LGB, storage and grain marketing. "From dust to maize", a video produced jointly by FAO and the National Resources Institute, has been shown on television several times and has been used extensively during all training workshops. Two-day LGB-awareness workshops targeted at district agricultural staff have been held in six provinces.

11 July 1997

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