Runyararo Muzavazi and Tatenda Charamba—
Southern Africa’s recovery from the El-Nino-induced drought that ravaged the region last year is under serious threat following menacing outbreaks of crop pests and livestock diseases, Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Dr Joseph Made has said. He said this on Tuesday in a speech read on his behalf by permanent secretary Mr Ringston Chitsiko during a Southern and East African Countries’ Conference on ways of mitigating the spread of crop pests and animal diseases held in Harare.
The three-day conference, which ended yesterday, was running under the theme: “Preparedness and response actions to emerging high impact trans-boundary crop and livestock pests and diseases.”
“The 2016/2017 season is facing increased trans-boundary crop pests and livestock disease outbreaks, posing a serious threat to agricultural livelihoods, thereby weakening the El-Nino drought recovery efforts instituted by governments and smallholder farmers in the region,” said Dr Made.
“Notable among these outbreaks are the cereal crop-eating caterpillars (fall armyworm) that have infested maize fields. In response, the Government of Zimbabwe launched chemical spraying operations to control the pest, in an attempt to mitigate its impact.
“The fall armyworm, which I understand is a new invasion in Southern Africa, the African armyworm and the Tuta absoluta on the tomato crop — another new invasion — are the major pests causing havoc in the farming community.”
Dr Made said that although managed in Zimbabwe, the foot and mouth disease remained a threat in areas declared as disease-free.
Animal diseases affect the quality of food (meat and milk), livestock products (hides and skins) and animal power (traction and transport). Prices of tomatoes have been on the increase due to shortages induced by the damage to the crop by the leaf miner.
Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) sub-regional coordinator Dr David Phiri suggested measures to be taken into consideration. “There is urgent need to raise awareness and to strengthen the surveillance, preparedness and response capacities of affected and risk countries in the Southern and Eastern Africa region,” he said.
Southern Africa is reeling from effects of the El Nino induced drought that affected 40 million people and reduced the availability of food by 15 percent, with a cereal deficit of nine million tonnes.
Representatives from Southern African Development Community, government officials from African countries including Angola, Botswana, Zambia, Uganda and other non-governmental organisations are attending the conference.