Fall armyworm outbreak in Zambia: responses, impact on maize production and food security

By Stephen Kabwe, Christabel Chengo-Chabwela, and Kabaso Mulenga

In November and early December in 2016, Zambia experienced an outbreak of the Fall Army Worm (FAW) that affected districts in almost all the provinces. Once pest was identified, The President of the Republic of Zambia, His Excellency Edgar Lungu declared the outbreak as a national disaster. This prompted the quick mobilization of resources to control the pest and the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) and Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) were tasked to coordinate resource mobilization and implementation of control measures.

In order to understand the implications the FAW outbreak had on Zambia’s Food Security and Trade, regarding the most affected crop (maize), IAPRI carried out an assessment of the FAW outbreak to evaluate the response and identify key lessons for future response. The assessment was carried out between 28th January and 10th February 2017.

The fieldwork was revealing, drawing out several key findings from this outbreak, notably:

Lack of effective early warning systems, and misidentification in the differentiation of FAW and stalk borers by some field officials. This led farmers to delay in understanding the potential threat the yield was facing;

Government’s response was reactive rather than proactive; hence, resource mobilization is always a challenge. Logistics to effectively distribute pest controls were a challenge, including getting chemicals and equipment to farmers. Also, sufficient chemicals and equipment were not available to distribute to all the farmers that were affected;

Shortages were compounded by the decision to offer free treatment chemicals; some farmers that could have purchased insecticides on the open market did not, leading to further delays treating the outbreak; and

Shortages and poor education led some farmers to take drastic measures—using detergents as insecticide, often destroying whole harvest.

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