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New challenges to food security in Zambia

Climate change is real and has proved to have serious effects on maize production arising from erratic weather including late rains at the start of the season, droughts, floods due to heavy rains in many areas, which has direct negative effect on food production. 

Notwithstanding, the already existing impacts of climate change on maize production, this blog post aims to attribute the maize munching pests that have ravaged Zambia, reducing maize production and affecting overall food security in the country.  

Agricultural development is the most powerful tool to end poverty and hunger by 2030. This shift has profound implications for achieving the global targets for the action agenda of the global food system called for by the sustainable development goals. With a large number of unemployed youth in the country, achieving hunger and poverty targets may still be a challenge. The agriculture sector, however, presenting opportunities for youth to explore and spur economic benefits. 

In the words of Gunnar Myrdal (in Todaro, 2011), Nobel laureates in economics; ‘It is in the agricultural sector that the battle for long-term economic development will be won or lost.’ 

However, climate change in the recent years has presented new challenges that are frustrating the path to achieving food and hunger targets. During the 2016/2017 crop season that runs from October to march, farmers awoke to the horror of massive fall armyworms that invaded maize fields destroying over one million hectares of maize in all the ten provinces in the country. 

The fall armyworm is native to the tropical regions of the western hemisphere from the united states to Argentina. Fall armyworm thrives in humid weather in overwintering areas such as that tropics and sub-tropic regions. However, for the first time in 2016 it was recorded in the west and central Africa and later spread to southern Africa and Zambia is one of the affected countries. 

This unexpected scourge took the farmer by surprise and the latter was not adequately prepared and equipped to quickly curb the fall armyworm invasion. Though it has been disputed that the fall armyworm outbreak is associated with climate change, it is indisputable that warmer conditions and environmental degradation have increased the pernicious nature of the outbreak. 

The Zambian government through the Ministry of Agriculture distributed some pesticides to farmers, however, this was not enough and there was not enough capacity to assess the overall impact and collect the accurate figures for the number of hectares that were affected. 

Since the fall armyworm is not only a challenge facing Zambia but other parts of Africa too, hence Zambia joined two other countries at the UN Agency meeting on Army Worm Outbreak that took place in Zimbabwe.  The aim of the meeting was to find a coordinated approach to contain, the situation.
Early this year (2017/2018 crop season) reports re-surfaced of a second invasion of the fall armyworms in all the ten provinces in Zambia and has already destroyed a number of maize crops.

There is a need for quick and co-ordinated responses to avoid harvest losses and loss of billions of kwacha (Zambian currency). Research, awareness and educational effort are required so that farmers are can be able to monitor their fields and make well-informed decisions on how to control the outbreak of these pests. In addition, it is necessary that natural methods are used to reduce the impacts of the pest and maintain crop diversity on the farm, which encourages natural predators.

The poorest households will be the most affected seeing that they were not able to adapt in the shortest time owing to the fact that the poor usually do not have any other economic activities to fall back on during the loss of maize fields.

In conclusion, over half of the total population of Zambians depends on the agriculture sector for their income; the impacts of climate change are causing food insecurity and frustrating all efforts to reduce malnutrition and poverty.


Photo credit: Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, Zimbabwe