Zimbabwe: The March of the Fall Armyworm in Zimbabwe

23 January 2020

For 52 year old Luckson Kurehwa of Honde Valley in Manicaland, the appearance of the fall armyworm on his maize plant marked the beginning of a problem.

With signs of drought already showing, Kurehwa could not wait for the pest to devour his only source of food. He made sure that he procures the correct chemicals to protect his crop.

"The pest is deadly I have been into farming for most parts of my life. I know the effects of the armyworm. I had to buy the correct chemicals so that it cannot devour my only source of sadza,"

"Members of the community have also been mobilising resources so that every farmer controls the pest. We seem to be striking the right chord though some are opting for the natural ways," said Kurehwa

With maize as an everyday staple, the Honde Valley community was not only worried about their income, but their food security as well.

"Our main worry is the current drought, what will it be when the pest destroys our only hope. We have been using ashes though they are not that effective, we are now using chemicals from the shops," said Melody Chinowaita a farmer

Reports of the fall army worm have been recorded in Honde Valley in Manicaland as well as Shamva in Mashonaland Central.

Agriculture expert, Christopher Matsiya says unlike the usual stock borer the armyworm is aggressive and can cause severe damage hence farmers need to adequately prepare.

"Farmers ought to conduct physical scouting unlike the usual stoke borer, the armyworm is destructive. They should also work closely with extension officers in their areas so that they can be advised on the most suitable chemicals to use" said Matsiya

The armyworm poses a threat not only to farmers but to the country's food security. Research has shown that they migrate up to 500 kilometres per generation and feeds on more than 80 crops.

Due to its rapid reproduction rate and destructive capacity of plants at different growth stages, it can destroy entire crops almost overnight.

The name armyworm refers to the species' invasive behaviour.

Simbarashe Muchena from the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) says if the pest is not managed it can cause economic losses.

"The Fall armyworm is one of the transboundary pests which can cause huge economic losses if not managed and over the past seasons it has been a challenge to the country" said Muchena

He encouraged farmers to watch over their fields from time to time and come up with control measures.

"At this stage farmers are encouraged to routinely scout their fields and come in with control measures. It is recommended to have a holistic approach in managing fall armyworm , that is employing a number of methods which can be crashing of eggs and where necessary come in with chemical control and this is largely dependent on the scale of production." he said

According to a 1997 study by plant and crop experts, infestation during the mid to late whorl stage of maize development caused yield losses of up to between 15-73 percent when 55 percent of the plants were infested with the fall armyworm.

With the destructive nature of the pest there is need to educate farmers on ways to control the marauding pest.

Reports of the fall armyworm appearance in Zimbabwe began in 2016 in Bubi District, Matebeleland North. The pest had to spread across the country causing major damages to crops.

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