THE Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security has advised farmers to be on the alert for a possible armyworm outbreak which could adversely affect anticipated good harvests for this current cropping season.
Lesotho, like any southern African country, was likely to suffer a big blow due to a possible Fall Armyworm outbreak which has been reported in countries like South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
A fall armyworm outbreak, the first emergence of the pest in southern Africa, was causing considerable crop damage in some countries.
Fall armyworm was a relatively new pest from the Americas, whose presence on the African continent was first reported in Sao Tome and Principe in January 2016.
The pest was known to cause extensive crop losses of up to 73 percent depending on existing conditions and is difficult to control with a single type of pesticide, especially when it has reached an advanced larval development stage.
The Food Agricultural Organisation (FAO) warned that an escalation of the pest damage could dampen prospects for good crop harvests that was anticipated in the current farming season due to good showers the region is experiencing this season.
The statement from FAO said maize, a staple food in the region has been the most affected, as well as other cereals including sorghum, millet and wheat.
With Lesotho reeling from the effects of two consecutive years of El Nino-induced drought that left over 600 000 Basotho food insecure, the fall armyworm outbreak would drastically increase the number of people food insecure as most families are dependent on subsistence farming.
On Tuesday, the Agriculture ministry’s Information Officer, Lereko Masupha warned that Lesotho was not immune to the armyworm outbreak.
“We have already received reports that parts of South Africa, including Limpopo and Mpumalanga have been attacked by this deadly pest and this shows that Lesotho is also highly vulnerable,” Mr Masupha said.
Mr Masupha warned farmers to be on the alert of a possible armyworm outbreak by visiting their fields at least twice a day.
“So it is important that farmers closely inspect the presence of these eggs on their crops at least twice a day. They must also make herd-boys aware of this possible outbreak,” Mr Masupha said, adding “once spotted, they must immediately inform the ministry so that we attend to them immediately before they cause more harm.”
He said the equipment and pesticides government acquired during the 2015 African Armyworm outbreak would come in handy when the Fall Armyworm is spotted.
“We have also set traps for the armyworms at strategic places across the country. These traps are some of the strategies which will help us spot the armyworm at an earliest time so that we act swiftly,” Mr Masupha said.
He said the armyworm only needed 11 days to wreak havoc, hence farmers had to be vigilant.
FAO Sub-regional Coordinator for southern Africa, David Phiri, said over 40 million people in the region were negatively affected by the two consecutive years of drought which reduced food availability by 15 percent and caused a cereal deficit of 9 million tonnes.
“The situation remains fluid. Preliminary reports indicate possible presence (of the pest) in Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe has positively identified the presence of the pest while the rest are expected to release test results soon,” Mr Phiri said in a statement.
In Zambia, the statement said government had already spent US$ 3 million (M40, 407, 673.64) in an attempt to control the pest that has affected approximately 130 000 hectares of crops.
The statement however said the full extent of the damage caused by this pest in Zambia and other countries was yet to be established.
“The pest which primarily spreads through wind dispersal and host plant products, is reported to be still active. The affected countries are also in different stages of assessing the damage to the crops because the outbreaks did not occur simultaneously,” Mr Phiri said.
Meanwhile, FAO, in partnership with Southern African Development Community (SADC) and International Red Locust Control Organisation for Central and Southern Africa (IRLCO-CSA) has organised an emergency regional meeting to shape coordinated action.
The meeting will be held in Harare, Zimbabwe from 14 to 16 February, 2017.
“Southern Africa is currently facing serious threats posed by diverse transboundary pests and diseases, including the varied armyworms, locusts, the tomato leaf minor and maize lethal necrosis disease.
“The Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, H5N8 strain, that has been confirmed in Uganda and possibly Rwanda too, is likely to spread southwards, along the wild bird migration routes”, Mr Phiri said.
He said the Harare meeting will discuss the strengthening of surveillance, preparedness and coordinated emergency responses to transboundary crop pests and livestock diseases, including the fall armyworm infestation.
He further said it would also discuss control strategies and measures and provide a platform for sharing experiences and lessons.
“As the region faces up to these new and emerging challenges, that are threatening the livelihoods of over 70 percent of the population that depend on agriculture, there is a crucial need to enhance capacity at country and regional levels, to prevent, detect and respond rapidly to any new pests and diseases threat.”
“The countries need to maintain and, where needed, expand diagnostic laboratory, surveillance and response capacity as well as conduct assessments and research to enable rapid responses to recurrent and new threats,” Mr Phiri added.