ZHOMBE, ZIMBABWE —
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has predicted that Zimbabwe will be the country hardest hit by the invasion of armyworms in southern Africa. Farmers are already taking serious losses.
The Gokwe and Zhombe areas in Zimbabwe's Midlands province are among the most affected by an invasion of the fall armyworms. Armyworms are a type of moth capable of destroying entire crops in a matter of weeks.
It is the first time the insect has hit southern Africa, and seven countries confirmed an outbreak of the fall armyworm, which FAO says is more destructive and more difficult to control than the African armyworm.
The fall armyworm thrives during the rainy season, particularly after periods of prolonged drought - which is the case in southern Africa. The Zimbabwean government said earlier this month that it deployed teams to spray pesticides.
But farmer Violet Mloyi is close to tears as she talks about how she watched armyworms devour her maize crop. Most of it was gone in three days.
She says she feels very much pained looking at her field. She says she invested a lot of money in the crop and was looking forward to a great harvest since it is raining this year. But now she see herself as someone facing hunger again.
Mloyi says she has no idea what brought this worm to her field. When asking around about the menace, she says some advised her to use pesticides, others said to just spray soil over the plants. She says she did that, and it actually got worse.
Country already facing shortages
FAO says up to 130,000 hectares of crops could be destroyed in Zimbabwe. The armyworm is targeting mainly corn and maize – the country’s staple crop. That is a serious concern as Zimbabwe is already struggling with food shortages. It was one of the African countries hardest hit by an El-Nino-induced drought during the 2015/2016 growing season.
Diversification has helped some small farmers.
Armyworms destroyed Catherine Komazana’s maize crop but for not all is lost. She is part of a program funded by Britain’s Department for International Development that teaches farmers, especially women, to raise livestock.
“Apart from maize, we sell goats. Poultry, we sell…. We got rabbits. We use them for our meals. I have rapoko [finger millet], sorghum, sesame….”
Rita Gasura, a Ministry of Agriculture official in Zhombe, says farmers need to be vigilant.
“We are advising farmers to use chemicals to spray the armyworm and to scout their fields every day so that they use the chemicals early before the crops are destroyed by the armyworm. I can say almost 40 percent of crops [were] affected by the armyworm,” Gasura said.
That figure might increase as farmers in the area say they have no money to buy chemicals as many are still trying to recover lost earnings from two years of drought.
Making matters worse, continuing rains allow the armyworm to thrive.