By Farai Mabeza
ZIMBABWE will again be affected by the fall armyworm (FAW) for the second year running in the 2017/2018 agriculture season, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) has said.
According to the 2017 second round crop and livestock assessment report, eight percent of the area under maize was affected by the pest across the country last season, and the total damage caused was estimated at two percent.
“The FAW, which attacked crops for the first time in Zimbabwe during the 2016/2017 cropping season, will almost certainly resurface during the 2017/2018 season.
“There are recent reports that the FAW has been detected on irrigated winter maize crop in many districts. Individual farmers will likely find it difficult to procure chemicals to control the pest and with the ongoing cash shortages the government may face difficulty in procuring chemicals as well,” FEWSNET said.
Field reports indicate that there were plans to extend education and training activities to help farmers identify, manage, and control the pest, but such activities have reportedly not reached all parts of the country.
The cost of most effective chemicals will also be out of reach of most poor farmers.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has already warned that the fall armyworm has become a complex pest to deal with and will take long to eliminate.
FAO said the use of random pesticides to deal with the armyworm would destroy pests that normally feed on the fall armyworm, exposing crops to more dangerous pests.
“The best thing we can do is manage it in such a way that it does not reduce yields very much,” FAO said.
Due to increasing fear of losing yields, desperate farmers have resorted to using chemical pesticides that have not been scientifically proven to deal with the fall armyworm.
FEWSNET said that continued liquidity challenges would adversely impact livelihood options and food access for poor households.
“Rising demand and shortages of foreign currency and local bond notes will put increasing pressure on the value of transactions in the parallel market, increasing prices of commodities and services, and mostly affecting poor households.
“Inflation is also expected to rise significantly during the outlook period,” FEWSNET said.
The macroeconomic conditions will also have an impact on other income sources and livelihood activities.
Livestock terms of trade will be influenced by anticipated below-average grain prices affecting poor households disposing their livestock in exchange for cereal. Also, the seasonal increase in demand for meat during the festive season (November and December) is expected to be below average due to the ongoing liquidity crisis.
FEWSNET also said prices of other non-cereal basic food commodities would continue to increase.
These non-cereal items include cooking oil, sugar, and flour. An increase in prices is expected for these items due to continued shortages of foreign currency during the outlook period.
Increased demand during the festive months of November and December is also expected to push up prices for these items.