Scientist Kavwanga Yambayamba says Zambia should have been better prepared to control armyworm, while a local ecology think-tank called for harmonised research in curbing crop pests that were currently ravaging maize fields.
Prof. Yambayamba says past outbreaks of other agricultural pests should have adequately prepared the nation to swiftly quell the armyworm which recently ravaged about 10% of the country’s planted maize.
“Although this was the first time we had the fall armyworms, we have had in the past outbreaks of other agricultural pests. But it appeared like the nation did not have the scientific knowledge and experience in the way we dealt with the situation,” Yambayamba, which also serves as president of the Zambia Academy of Science (ZAS), says.
ZAS comprises of the Entomological Society of Zambia, Copperbelt University, Mulungushi University, University of Zambia and the Institute for Eco-Development Strategies and Toxicology. Yambayamba cited stalk borer, African armyworm and red locust as pests which should have helped prepare the country for outbreaks.
He says initially there was a leadership vacuum in responding to the situation. This may have forced some desperate farmers to employ unscientific approaches such as washing detergent to fight armyworm. The fall armyworm is a destructive caterpillar indigenous to the Americas. The “fall” refers to the season during which it tends to migrate to the Americas.
‘Initially there was a leadership vacuum in responding to the situation’
The pest, which targets maize, sorghum, soya beans, groundnuts and potatoes, was only spotted in Africa last year in western Nigeria. It has already left a trail of destruction, threatening food security in southern Africa. In Zambia 124 000 ha of maize were destroyed by armyworms before being contained.
Meanwhile, Samuel Sakanya, an ecologist with the National Institute of Ecology and Research, says there is a need to harmonise approaches for curbing crop pests. “A haphazard approach could result in endangering other species which do not affect crops but are meant to protect them against the pest,” he says.