Dumisani Nsingo, Senior Farming Reporter
THE Government has stepped up efforts to improve plant health throughout the country as it forges ahead to ensure optimum yields, a Cabinet Minister said.
Speaking at a Tobacco Plant Health Awareness field day held at Makwe Irrigation Scheme in Gwanda District, Matabeleland South Province on Friday, Rural Development, Protection and Preservation of National Culture and Heritage Minister Abednigo Ncube said in spite of the achievements registered during the 2016/17 farming season the country faced outbreaks of new and old crop pests and diseases that threatened agricultural production.
The emerging crop pests that have been reported during the 2016/17 farming season include fall armyworm, tomato leaf miners and cotton mealy bug.
“These emerging crop pests, if not managed, have potential negative effects on yield, production costs, livelihoods and exports (agricultural exports). Crop yields can be reduced by 100 percent if these pests are not managed. Some of these emerging pests have been reported in more than one crop,” said Minister Ncube.
He said reports of fall armyworm outbreak in all the country’s farming provinces had prompted the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development to strengthen its surveillance, awareness, management and control systems.
“The pests are being controlled effectively owing to the training and awareness programme that provided knowledge of the behaviour of the pest and control methods conducted throughout the provinces.
“The Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development is also carrying out surveillance and operationalisation of early warning systems for crop pests such as African armyworm, fruit flies, cereal beetle, armored cricket, bollworms and stalk borers,” said Minister Ncube.
Speaking at the same event Director in the Department of Research and Specialist Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Dr Godfrey Chikwenhere said the Government had unveiled resources to be utilised in monitoring crop health in the country.
He said the Government has procured eight vehicles mainly for the monitoring of crop health in the country’s provinces, a move aimed at guarding against emerging crop pests that threatened the 2016/17 season yield.
The vehicles would be distributed at the launch of a Plant Health Programme on 27 July.
“We got eight vehicles after the launch, they will be going out but we have to work out how we are going to distribute them or we are going to start by making our staff to do outreach programmes so that they can reach the farmers and practically train them in the fields and come back with the results and we analyse them (results) accordingly and see how best we can do.
“If the Government is getting more resources we hope it will have an interest and inject more money for those vehicles to be added so that at least each province may have four or so vehicles mainly for monitoring the plant health issues and advising the farmers so that they may grow a good healthy crop,” said Dr Chikwenhere.
He said the Department of Research and Specialist Services was on an outreach programme to ascertain crop health in all the country’s major irrigation schemes.
“We want to equate plant health to human health. We have already opened plant clinics where the farmer should bring his or her plants, which they think are not well enough then we look at them and then advise accordingly.
“We have a range of experts. We have people who deal with soil, weeds, pests, diseases so that they can be able to advise our farmers so that they grow a healthy crop,” said Dr Chikwenhere.
He also said there was need to ensure that pesticides used to eradicate pests do not compromise animals and human health.
“What we have to do is to make sure that experiments are carried out and we look at how that product works and the residual effect of that pesticide on the crop . . .you might be killing the pest but also harming yourself and people who will be eating that product,” said Dr Chikwenhere.