The Sunday News
Munyaradzi Musiiwa, Farming Correspondent
AN outbreak of fall armyworm has hit the Midlands Province completely destroying crops in some of the districts.
Midlands provincial crop and livestock officer Mrs Madeline Magwenzi said the pest that affected crops last year was wreaking havoc on irrigated maize across the Province and fast spreading to the rain-fed crop.
“Midlands Province has been hit by an outbreak of fall armyworm and it has affected all the districts. In some cases farmers had to replant after their crop was completely destroyed. We are still to assess the situation to ascertain the actual maize hectarage that has been destroyed.
“However, our preliminary investigations show that the pest has spread all over the province. The dire situation has been worsened by inadequacy of effective pesticides resulting in farmers resorting to other traditional means,” she said.
Fall armyworm Spodoptera frugiperda is a prime noctuid pest of maize on the American continents where it has remained confined despite occasional interceptions by European quarantine services in recent years.
The pest has currently become a new invasive species in West and Central Africa where outbreaks were recorded for the first time in early 2016.
It is suspected that fall armyworm came to Zimbabwe when the country imported maize following the El Nino induced drought that befell Southern African in 2016.
Mrs Magwenzi said the Government through the Plant Protection Research Institute had set up traps in all districts for the trapping of male fall armyworm so as to to inhibit production of the pest.
“Fall armyworm has been identified in all districts in the Midlands Province. We have been working hand in hand with plant protection and they have put four traps in every district. These traps attract male insects and of the trapped insects 50 percent are fall armyworms.
“The traps are designed in a manner that they trap males because the substances that are put on them smell like females. This is done mainly to inhibit production of fall armyworm. With fall armyworm one moth can produce more than 2 000 eggs and hatch in three to four days,” said Mrs Magwenzi.
Confirmed outbreaks can face import bans on their agriculture products because armyworm is classified as a quarantine pest.
The armyworms usually attack fields en masse, consuming crops including maize, wheat, millet and rice, the main sources for food in Zimbabwe.
Mrs Magwenzi also said the Government has embarked on a massive training exercise for agricultural extension officers to curb the spread of the pest.
“We have been going around the province training extension officers of how to fight armyworm. The best way which we have been taught by Plant Protection which is the research station for crops in the country is for farmers to scout for this worm in their fields every morning and every evening and apply chemicals or destroy it physically,” she said.
Mrs Magwenzi said there was a shortage of effective chemicals and pesticides to fight fall armyworm hence it was fast spreading.
“There are many chemicals that we are using currently but they are not very effective. These chemicals are not used across, some are used when the worm is still young and some when the worm has fully grown. The most effective chemicals are in short supply,” she said.
Last year Plant Protection Research Institute identified and recommended 10 pesticides for the eradication of fall armyworm, which threatened to hamper the country’s 2016/17 summer season maize crop yield.