The invasion of the African and Fall Armyworm (FAW) in the northern parts of KZN poses a threat to farmers in the province.
Since February, the KZN MEC of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) Bongiwe Sithole-Moloi has been crisscrossing the districts affected by the two endemics.
“We dispatched a team of specialists mainly the veterinary services, specialist Agricultural Advisors and production scientists. The situation was firstly identified at Nkandla under Inkosi Mabaso on 25 March,” reported the department.
The department said it had visited the area within 48 hours and it discovered that the African Armyworm was feeding on normal grass in the region.
According to the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), there has not been any field survey data that indicates the KZN Province was hit harder by both endemics.
“The intensity of outbreaks depends upon the local climatic conditions and converging winds that concentrate the migrating adult moths, as well as the maize crops in the local area being at a susceptible young stage,” said Dr Roger Price, Research Team Manager at ARC.
Dr Price suggested that these could have been factors that contributed to the outbreak in the northern parts of KZN.
Smallholder farmers who planted non-GMO maize varieties were likely to suffer yield losses of 80-90%.
“FAW, has not impacted on the commercial maize farming areas on the Highveld which are protected by the GMO varieties planted” added Dr Price.
In the Highveld areas, FAW dies out during winter and then only re-invades late in the summer season. This foreign pest causes 100% damage in young maize crops if not sprayed.
However, the ARC was concerned that smallholder farmers were not equipped with knowledge about how to scout and identify FAW/African Armyworm in the field.
“As a department, we provided bales and made provisions of winter kick to compensate the losses on the ground,” said the department.
The ARC also implored for the department to arm farmers with spray equipment (knapsack sprayers and tractor boom sprayers) and as well as stocks of registered insecticides.
“Above all, the farmers needed training on the correct and timeous application of insecticides to control the FAW as safely and as cost-effectively as possible.”
The KZN Department said it was keeping an eye on developments but the KZN Democratic Alliance (DA) was not convinced of the department’s intervention.
“The DA flagged the outbreak with the MEC when it first appeared in Northern KZN. This was on 27 January 2020 yet, to date, she has not responded to our correspondence on the matter” said DA MPL Chris Papas.
The KZN department said it will not hesitate to dispatch chemical treatment where there was a rapid growth of both pandemics.