Oshakati — Several villages in the Omusati, Oshana and Oshikoto regions face a devasting threat from an outbreak of ravenous army worms.
Army worms are insect larvae that occur in large numbers and devour cereals and other crops and move en masse to the next vegetated area after exhausting the targeted field, leaving entire fields bare.
If the affected regions do not receive sufficient rains and if army worms feeding on budding crops and grass for livestock are not eliminated soon, the regions are likely to experience poor harvests and drought. The hardest hit regions are Omusati and Oshana.
The Omusati Regional Council encourages farmers in the affected areas to resort to traditional ways of fighting the army worm invasion for fear of side effects that may come with the use of commercial pesticides. The Oshana Region on the other hand is using both methods - traditional and pesticides - to fight the outbreak.
Since Monday afternoon a squad of agricultural field extension workers were hard at work in the Uukwiyuushona Constituency spraying pesticides in an attempt to stem the advancing army worms. Other affected areas in the Oshana Region are Ompundja, Uuvidhiya, Oshakati West and Oshakati East.
"We are informed by Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry officials that pesticide pose negative side effects for women and livestock, that is why the people who are spraying the mahangu fields are men only and they are treating only mahangu fields, while avoiding oshanas where livestock are grazing. As soon as it rains the medicine will be washed away and it will be safe again," the Governor of the Oshana Region Clemens Kashuupulwa said.
According to Kashuupulwa, the affected farmers in the region are too many, thus their exact number cannot be confirmed at the moment. He said the harvest in the region is not only threatened by the worms, but operators of government tractors who are responsible for ploughing in public mahangu fields have now stopped in order to help the agricultural extension officers in spraying the fields.
He further advised affected resident farmers to also use traditional methods to combat the army worms by digging trenches around their mahangu fields. He said this is one way of trapping the worms and preventing them from reaching the crops.
Meanwhile, Omusati Regional Governor Sophia Shaningwa advised farmers to rely on traditional methods to fight the army worms, which she said is safer and more effective.
"This is not the first time we are getting attacked by army worms. Our people have always relied on the traditional method to fight them," she said. According to Shaningwa, her office has consulted the local veterinarian who advised them to use traditional methods, since they are safe for both humans and livestock.
"The veterinarian said the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry should not use pesticides, because they are harmful for livestock. Even if you treat the mahangu fields only, you can never guarantee that animals would not enter the fields and feed on the treated crops. Our people should just dig threnches around their mahangu fields so that the army worms can fall in them," said Shaningwa.
Shaningwa further added that based on the information that they received from the vet, livestock that consume army worms during grazing are not in any way at risk. The only problem is that army worms threaten the livelihood of people since they compete with livestock by feeding on green grass.
"The army worms are many and they eat 24 hours a day. If they get to a place they completely clean the area. We are just praying that God will send us rain and once it rains all the worms will be swept away to the oshanas where they will eventually die," said Shaningwa.