Army worm detected in Manicaland

HARARE – This year’s Command Agriculture yield is under threat amid reports that the fall armyworm that ravaged last season’s crop has been identified in some parts of Manicaland Province.

Farmers in the eastern lowveld of the country told the Daily News on Sunday last week that the armyworm had mainly stormed Chipinge.

A farm manager at Stillmeer  Farm in Chipinge, Oscar Taguta, said he has already spent close to $11 000 on chemicals to conduct the first pest spray on his 150-hectare maize field, with a second spray expected to escalate the cost.

Taguta said the dreaded fall armyworm that affected maize yields last season “is far from being contained and is already causing headaches for farmers in Chipinge”.

“The dilemma is increased by the fact that the control measures have all been experimental as they are still scouting for the most effective chemical to fight the pest, although government has urged us to maintain vigilant crop monitoring and report any signs of attack,” he said.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (Fao) is currently is working on a programme that will equip farmers across Africa with knowledge to fight the fall armyworm.

The pest was first detected in Africa early last year, and is now present in 22 African countries, including Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe is not the only country affected by the fall armyworm, with Malawi recently declaring a state of crop disaster in 20 districts affected by the pest.

In August, Fao held a workshop in Accra, Ghana to develop a field curriculum for the fall armyworm and integrated pest management for use by trained facilitators in ongoing farmer field schools across Africa.

It sought to build the capacity of participating senior trainers and develop a strategic plan for the roll-out of the fall armyworm management response in Africa through the field schools and the training of extension workers.

Fao said ecological pest management strategies need to be put in place to avoid significant damages to agriculture and food security in those regions and to reduce the risk of overuse of chemical pesticides.

The organisation’s sub regional coordinator and country representative for Zimbabwe, David Phiri, said African countries were struggling to contain the pest.

“Due to inadequate knowledge of this new pest, governments of affected countries launched massive pesticide operations, incurring huge costs in an attempt to contain the pest.

“Likewise, desperate farmers applied different types of pesticides and unorthodox measures with little guidance on appropriateness, human safety and environmental considerations.

“The fall armyworm is extremely difficult and expensive to manage,” Phiri said.

He said the Zimbabwe government had, however, indicated that it has the pest under control but he also warned against over-reliance on pesticides.

“We need to be wary of over-reliance on pesticides as a mechanism for pest control and plant protection.

“Pesticides disrupt the natural crop ecosystem balance, thereby causing outbreaks of secondary pests; particularly through elimination of natural enemies.

“They also contribute to a vicious cycle of resistance of pests to pesticides.

“Excessive use of pesticides exposes farmers to health risks and has negative consequences on the environment,” he said.