Zambia military goes on chemical offensive against maize munching pest

Zambia’s military and other government agencies are working to contain an invasion of army worms in maize fields in parts of the country. The army worms, which feast on young maize plants and are capable of wiping out entire fields, have been spotted in about six of Zambia’s 10 provinces, threatening the country’s staple crop.

KEEMBE, ZAMBIA (JANUARY 6, 2017) (REUTERS) – A strong odor of pesticides hangs in the steamy tropical air as a team of men in blue work suits and respirators sprays a field of maize in this rural corner of Zambia, the frontline in a battle against an invasion of ravenous armyworms.

The team, comprised of soldiers from a unit Zambia’s military, is part of a mobilization campaign aimed at stemming a pest that threatens to destroy tens of thousands of hectares of the staple maize that feeds this impoverished southern African nation.

Mary Sikaona, a 42-year-old farmer is depending on the team to save her crop after her efforts to get rid of the pest failed.

“I thank the government for sending the ZNS entourage to come and spray, because, I really lost crop. At first I tried to spray cypermethrin – nothing happened. I really have hope now, that the armyworms are gone,” she said.

According to the country’s disaster management unit, 124,000 hectares have been invaded by the moths and the government has so far managed to spray 86,000 hectares.

Zambia’s maize production rose to 2.87 million tonnes in the 2015/2016 crop season from 2.60 million tonnes the previous season due to better than anticipated rainfall and early delivery of fertilizer and seed to farmers.

The ministry of Finance said last week it had so far released 30.8 million kwacha to fight the pests.

Zambia’s National Farmers Union also stated that most of the maize was attacked when it was knee high and there are high chances of it recovering after spraying it with pesticides, however because of the current heavy rain in the country, the spraying has been halted.

“We might lose a crop up to 20 percent of the planted area but because we have known the problem and we have reported to the relevant authority – necessary chemicals have come to the district. Almost 100 percent of the chemicals have come now, so we expect that we should be able to reduce that 20 percent loss to less than 10 percent, and be able to have a good crop for the Keembe district,” said district agricultural co-ordinator, Joseph Phakati.

Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu ordered the air force last month to join other government agencies in an emergency operation to contain the spread of pests that have invaded maize fields in many parts of the country.

Lungu also told members of parliament to return to their constituencies and help raise awareness against the armyworms.