American bollworms invade Etunda… to impact on harvests

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Ongwediva – Namibia is one of the countries in southern Africa whose food security is under threat following the large-scale invasion of crop fields in the Omusati Region by American bollworms.

The most affected is Etunda Green Scheme Irrigation Project, the government scheme that supplies almost the whole country with maize through AMTA (Agro-Marketing and Trade Agency) that distributes Namibia’s staple food to local millers.

Etunda also has a miller that supplies maize meal to small businesses. The project is in peril following an outbreak of the so-called American bollworms since last November.

Efforts to save 120 hectares of maize cultivated between November and December 2016 proved futile and the only option is to plough the stems into the soil.

The project has already spent at least N$3.8 million on seeds, fertilizers and pesticide but there is no hope to recover such money.

Chief agronomist at Agribusdev (Agricultural Business Development Agency), Julia Nambili, confirmed the crisis at Etunda irrigation project, maintaining that if it does not rain soon to break the cycle of the fast-breeding pests, no maize would be harvested from Etunda.

According to Nambili, at maximum production the commercial section of the government project produces at least 4 600 metric tons of maize, while small-scale farmers produce some 1 200 metric tons. This brings the quantity of maize produced at Etunda to 5 800 metric tons per year.

“This year we will be lucky if we produce 1 300 metric tons. It is a disaster, the project is severely affected but this is a natural disaster and there is nothing much we can do,” she said.

Nambili said the process to contain the worms with pesticides is very expensive and currently ineffective. The moths that birth the worms inhabit the nearby trees. They lay their eggs on the crops which hatch after every three days, according to Nambili. This makes it difficult for one to contain them by using pesticides.

The 120 hectares, according to Nambili, do not include small-scale farmers’ crops within Etunda, which have also been destroyed. Etunda is surrounded by a number of farms and irrigation projects such as Olushandja and Etaka that are also severely hit.

Omusati Regional Governor Erginus Endjala said the country has no choice but to import maize this year.

According to Endjala last year the project produced a good quantity of maize and as a result the country did not import the sought-after after food.

Endjala said it is also worrisome that Zambia that normally exports maize to Namibia when the need arises is affected by an outbreak of army worms and had to use its military to battle the worms.

Other neighbouring countries faced with the same disaster include the north-west part of South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Bollworms thrive in warm weather ranging from 36 degrees Celsius and above, and feed on crops and other plants by devouring the leaves. Over the past three years Namibia has not received good rains but a rise in temperature, making the environment conducive for the deadly worms to flourish.

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