Severe weather threaten to erode Zambia’s agricultural gains

By Jeff Kapembwa

LUSAKA — Zambia’s gains in the 2016/17 agricultural farming seasons, having harvested 3.6 million tonnes of maize, is under threats from severe weather patterns coupled with floods and the armyworm looming over the Southern African state.

Zambia, which has until recently been a net importer of food, chiefly grain to meet the food needs of its 14.5 million people, has re-planned its agricultural policies, resulting in improved harvests, especially the staple food-maize,  making the country the reigning bread basket for the region and beyond,  having overtaken Zimbabwe.

However, Zambia, according to weather forecast experts, is under threat of experiencing severe weather patterns in the 2017/2018 rainy season.

Projections show that the unprecedented weather patterns, starting from normal to above normal rains in the early stages, will culminate in damage to property, including roads and other infrastructure.

This will be compounded by an invasion of a multitude of crop-eating armyworm caterpillars that have previously caused damage to staple crops in Zimbabwe, Kenya, South Africa and Ghana, resulting in hunger.

While much of the countryside is forecast to receive normal to above normal rainfall from November to December this year, there are possibilities of the pattern worsening towards the end of 2018.

This will result in flash floods and dry spells, which will in turn damage crops and much of the infrastructure such as roads while giving rise to a return of the infamous armyworm that ravaged a good portion of Zambia’s arable land, fueling concerns of a possible crop failure in the Southern African state next year.

According to a report compiled by weather experts and availed to The Southern Times in Lusaka by Minister of Communication and Transport, Brian Mushimba, Zambia faces possibilities of serious calamities including water-borne diseases as the rainy season heightens in the course of 2018.

“There are possibilities of experiencing dry spells, infrastructural damage to civil structures, including roads, bridges, culverts among others.

“The country is likely to experience a recurrence of the notorious armyworm that ravaged a good portion of Zambia’s harvestable land last rainy season, that ‘chewed’ much of the expected corn from various farmlands in the countryside.”

The rains, the report adds, are on average expected to start by end of November with the northern parts of Zambia likely to experience thunderstorms and showers by mid-October.

In some areas, rains begin earlier than expected.

These may face a downturn or drought as the year progresses, fueling a possibility of crop failure hence the need for all stakeholders, farmers included, to take caution and store enough harvested crop to avert damage.

“It is also important to note that in every season, there are such dry spells….farmers are therefore advised to store their harvested crops properly to avoid damage,” said Mushimba in the report.

The report warns of among other calamities flash floods chiefly  in flood prone areas  like eastern, western and southern provinces of the country. It further projects a strong prevalence of fungal and water borne diseases, including cholera, dysentery and typhoid with cases of increased mosquito breeding sites, giving rise to increased threats of malaria transmission.

There were indications of severe thunderstorms and showers by mid-October, hence the need for farmers and other interest groups to store enough of their harvested crops properly to avoid hunger. There were serious indications of severe damage to infrastructure, making roads and other infrastructure unusable.

All sectors have since been advised to heed the warning and improve on sanitation and practice good hygiene with cleaning expected of all drainage systems well in advance to avoid water blockages.

Institutions should equally stockpile relief materials, medicines and pesticides that may be required during anticipated crisis period.

“My ministry, further wishes to encourage the general public to plant trees as a measure to mitigate climate change and thereby contribute to improving rainfall pattern and performance in this country,” Mushimba said.

A traditionalist equally predicted severe weather patterns with a warning to Zambians to look to ancestral and spiritual assistance to overcome some of the feared calamities during the 2017/18 season, noting that it could be heavier and more devastating than the previous seasons because of climate change effects coupled with “insect like” calamitous objects uprooting and eating up most of the crop to be planted in most parts of the country.

According to Peter Jacalas Halubinda, speaking during a recently held traditional thanks-giving ceremony, the Lwiindi-Gonde, in southern Zambia, there will be more rains this year than ever before coupled with strange calamities.

He is cited by a local publication, the Mast Newspaper’s edition of 4 October as saying: “In December, there shall be insects that will come from the earth in the fields and start attacking crops but you shall collect two or three of these insects and give them to your shrine protectors so that they can vanish.”

Zambia’s Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) has since warned people in flood prone areas to consider relocating upland. The warning is to avert disasters and water borne diseases, according to DMMU spokesperson, Patrick Kangwa.

October 2017
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