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Saturday 16 December 2017
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Armyworms: Farmers cry for help

IMG-20170223-WA0108Commercial and communal crop farmers are feeling the pinch of the armyworm outbreak and are now calling on the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) to join hands with agricultural bodies to fight tooth and nail to combat the pestilence.
The calls come just a week after the agriculture ministry indicated to this paper that it does “not have enough pesticides in stock to combat the outbreak”.
 
Farmers in the northern and central parts of Namibia have been left to watch helplessly as their crop fields are destroyed by the chemical-resistant fall armyworm. As a result, a robust and holistic approach by MAWF and agriculture unions is what is required to tame the outbreak that poses a great threat to food security.
In an interview with The Patriot this week, small-scale vegetable farmer, Sheetuka Sheetuka, said farmers’ organisations need to do more to protect them from the outbreak by meeting the government “halfway”.
 
According to Sheetuka, organisations such as the Namibia Agronomic Board (NAB) need to liaise with MAWF to subsidize the available pesticides.
 
“I think they (farmers’ organisation) need to work together with government to subsidize some chemicals that will be given to farmers.
 
“Or they can give a little amount of money to farmers as we are not on our own because we pay some fees to these organisations,” said Sheetuka.
 
Sheetuka further noted that pesticides to combat the army worm were expensive despite being readily available.
“Some (pesticides) are readily available but the challenging thing is just the cost, my friend. One litre costs N$4 000.
“And imagine if you are running 8 hectares, how many litres do I need to buy just to combat that armyworm,” Sheetuka complained.
Moreover, Sheetuka said the current rainy season provides ideal conditions for farming due to the presence of warm temperatures and therefore farmers are in need of “more” pesticides.
“This season is a nice one for to plant a lot of crops in comparison with the temperature, we are having good temperatures in our area so we are cultivating a lot of crops.
 
“And if you put a lot of crops in your farm, it means you need more pesticides to control the pests,” he noted.
However, Sheetuka pointed that he has the armyworm outbreak on his farm “under control”.
 
He warned those into crop farming that it requires a lot of effort and commitment.
Sheetuka farms in the Omusati region in the Olushaandja area, and his crop field measures 5.5 heactares.
 
Sharing similar sentiments with Sheetuka was another crop farmer whose farm is located in the Grootfontein area, Gernot Eggert, who said the affordability of the pesticides varies with different farmers.
“They are readily available but affordability depends on what you (farmers) can afford to say whether it is affordable or not,” said Eggert.
 
Moreover, Eggert advised farmers to carry out “extensive” research on the type of worms present in their field to ensure that they buy the right chemicals.
Eggert says there are many chemicals available in the market to which the “fall armyworm” does not respond.
 
Therefore, Eggert advises other farmers to go on the internet to get the right “chemicals for the right pests”.
However Eggert said “even if you check on the internet, there is not a single pesticide that is registered” to which the fall armyworm succumbs 100%. That makes the armyworm outbreak even harder to combat, according to Eggert.
 
Last week, this paper was made to believe that MAWF embarked on a mission to facilitate the procurement of effective chemicals and additional spraying machines as well as engaging in bilateral consultation with various stakeholders; such as Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU), Namibia Agronomic Board (NAB), Agricultural Business Development Agency (AgriBusDev) and Agro Marketing and Tarde (AMTA) to combat the outbreak.
 
Food security
On the front of food security, both Eggert and Sheetuka agree that the armyworm outbreak posed a significant threat.
However, Eggert says the extent of the damage and loss of food can only be determined after harvesting.
 
“It is a threat to food security for all commercial and communal farmers but the real result (extent of loss) can only be seen after harvesting,” added Eggert.
 
On the contrary, Eggert remained optimistic that the loss will not be very significant as the outbreak is “partially” under control.
“The threat is big but at this stage it is not very big because they (armyworms) are partially controlled,” Eggert further noted.
 
Agriculture ministry
Also agreeing with Eggert, was agriculture minister John Mutorwa who last week told The Patriot that the armyworm is a great threat to food security in the country.
“Armyworm larvae feed on the foliage of the plant in severe cases, especially when plants begin to tassel and cobs are forming, large larvae normally feed on maize cobs.
 
“Damage to the cobs is normally much more severe than foliage damage, which poses a food security challenge, if cobs are damaged there will be no harvest at all hence food security is threatened,” Mutorwa was quoted saying.
Mutorwa further said armyworms are a direct threat to food security in the country as they can destroy an “entire field in a few days and have an ability to spread instantly through the aid of wind”.
 
Although there are limited funds to tackle the armyworm outbreak, MAWF has promised to use everything at its disposal to contain the epidemic.
“The Ministry is working on modalities to source more funds through Cabinet, although the outbreak has not yet been declared as a national emergency,” he said.
The agriculture minister further re-assured Namibians not to lose hope because they were doing all in their power to combat the outbreak.



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