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Dry Spells, Fall Armyworm Raise Concerns about Food Security in Southern Africa

Dried-out branches are seen amongst caked mud at Theewaterskloof dam near Cape Town, South Africa, Jan. 20, 2018.

The United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization says prolonged dry spells, erratic rainfall, high temperatures and the presence of the voracious fall armyworm have significantly dampened Southern Africa's 2018 agricultural season's cereal production prospects.

In an interview, Chimimba David Phiri, the Food and Agriculture Organization coordinator in southern Africa said prolonged dry spells, erratic rainfall, high temperatures and the presence of the voracious fall armyworm pests have significantly dampened Southern Africa's agricultural season's cereal production prospects in 2018, from the 2016/2017 season when there was above normal rain.

"[In terms of] the food situation in southern Africa, our worry is that this year the rainfall started very late, and even when it came, it has been erratic in falling with significant dry spells in the middle of the season. So this, we think is going to have a very negative impact on production overall this year."

In some parts of the region, including Zimbabwe, the Fall Armyworm, which first emerged last season, has compounded the situation as it continues to spread, added Phiri. He said the pest is now present across the Southern African Development Community except Mauritius and Lesotho.

But for farmer Moses Juliis Chibaya, about 200 kilometers north of Harare, the pest is targeting mainly his maize crop. He said he could have harvested a good crop of tobacco as he did last year had it not been for the dry spells Zimbabwe is facing.

"Though our economy is not performing well, but from a farmer's perspective, I think we need to invest in irrigation and the government must also assist with the equipment. Maybe if we have loans that can be given to farmers."

In 2000, former President Robert Mugabe's government embarked on a land reform program that displaced most white commercial farmers from their land and replaced them with mostly black peasants. With that came the destruction of most irrigation facilities that commercial farmers had set up and the decline of agricultural production in Zimbabwe.

The new government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week said it was working with international organizations such as the FAO toward increasing resilience of farmers to droughts by revamping irrigation facilities.

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