Fall Armyworm (FAW) is a highly destructive invasive pest with the potential to continuously marginalize the growth of the agriculture sector in Zambia. FAW mainly affects cereal crops including maize, which is Zambia’s staple food crop. Since 2016, Zambia has recorded widespread incidences of FAW including Chililabombwe, the district where l am currently working as a Plant Health Inspector (PHI).
So far, more than 55,000 farmers representing a combined total of over 172,000 hectares of cropland have been affected in Zambia (Mulenga 2018). In addition, the Disaster Management Unit under the office of the Vice President reported a 33% decline in maize yield during the 2017/2018 farming season associated with FAW outbreaks in the country. Such devastating crop and economic losses put the livelihoods and incomes of more than 60% of the population that depend on the agriculture sector in Zambia at risk, more so the rural-based farmers (WB 2017).
Efforts to control FAW have been limited. The major control measure for FAW is routine chemical applications (Malathion, Rogor, Cypermethrin). The Zambian government and various organizations are investing millions of dollars to purchase synthetic pesticides. However, from my experience as a PHI, the effectiveness of this control option is challenged by several issues such as; failure by a lot of farmers to correctly use the recommended chemicals, limited access and the high cost of pesticides including pesticide resistance. Many human, animal and environmental health issues are also linked with the overuse of these chemicals.
In addition, the current high ratio of one Agricultural Camp Officer to 900 farmers coupled with high illiteracy levels (44.7%), more especially in female-headed households has contributed to the poor awareness of FAW, consequently increasing the spread and severity of the pest. This situation is worsened by inadequate early warning systems, information asymmetry and the over-dependence on government support for the supply of chemicals to control FAW.
With the above background, my project idea is on building the capacity of farmers to sustainably control FAW through enhancing awareness campaigns and knowledge transfer. I am confident that a well-informed farmer and community with well-supported extension services will improve early detection, planning, monitoring and use of best-fit management practices. This will undergird actions in mitigation of the risks associated with FAW invasion in cropping systems. I believe that proper reintegration of the acquired knowledge and skills in integrated pest management (IPM) can safeguard the ecosystem and reduce the spread of FAW.
The project will be conducted on the Copperbelt, the epicenter of FAW in Zambia, and extend to all districts currently affected in the province. As an early career researcher on the ground, I have identified the knowledge gaps and seen the need to scale up efforts to effectively control FAW. Therefore, the overall aim of this project is to build the capacity of farmers to sustainably manage FAW to enhance household food and nutrition security. The two main specific objectives are to (i) conduct awareness campaigns on FAW, and (ii) transfer knowledge and upskill farmers on the best-fit IPM options.
To achieve these objectives, the following activities that are targeted at farmers and the surrounding communities on the Copperbelt are planned; Production of FAW factsheets and dissemination of information via radio programs, awareness campaign rallies, sensitization meetings, and workshops. Production of FAW management brochures and guides for farmers. Development of the FAW information webpage, the establishment of demonstration plots and plant health clinics. In addition, the establishment of on-farm farmer field schools, farmer to farmer exchange visits and lead-farmer training are also planned to be conducted. Public education will be enhanced through community participation initiatives such as school debates, essay writing competitions, art, culture, and dances. These activities will be executed over a five-year work plan in collaboration with the following key stakeholders; farmers, agro-dealers, agricultural extension services, research institutions, public schools, radio and television stations, printing media and the office of the District Commissioner in each district.
With proper implementation and adequate resources, the expected outcomes of this project will contribute to; increased awareness on FAW and adoption of IPM strategies, reduced resurgence, and spread of FAW, improved crop production, and productivity including the enhanced export market for maize seed. In turn, this will lead to improved income, poverty alleviation, reduced hunger and malnutrition for the benefit of smallholders and the entire community in the province.
My strong motivation to conduct this project is derived from the vital role agriculture plays to improve livelihoods on the Copperbelt where mining is the main economic activity. I believe with the support of the N-GAGE seed grant coupled with exceptional mentorship from experienced crop protection researchers and cooperating partners, I will be able to effectively help farmers from encountering unnecessary yield losses due to FAW attack and make farming a viable business, more especially for women and the youths. It will also give me an opportunity to create an enabling environment that brings together all key stakeholders to take control of FAW as a shared responsibility in the province. With the above reasons, it will be a great privilege for me to be part of the IUPAC International Congress and Next Generation Agri Summit, where I can appropriately share experiences with fellow young scientists and learn from renowned researchers in agriculture on crop protection issues. Furthermore, I look forward to creating professional networks that will last a lifetime as we put together efforts towards sustainability.
Mulenga, D, 2018, Fall armyworm infests 55,000 hectares of crops in Zambia, viewed 07 February 2019, https://www.africanfarming.com/fall-armyworm-infests-55-000-hectares-crops-zambia/.
World Bank 2017, Climate-Smart Agriculture: Solutions to Reducing Poverty and Food Insecurity in Zambia, viewed 03 March 2018, http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2017/06/29/climate-smart-agriculture-solutions-to-reducing-poverty-and-food-insecurity-in-zambia
Justina Chivanga, Zambia