The revelation that adult armyworm moths were spotted way back in October in some parts of Zambia is shocking, for had action been taken then, we would not be grappling such a destructive pest in such a frantic manner.
The nation would have been spared the huge cost now being incurred on procuring chemicals to fight the pest.
More critically, a lot of the crop that has been destroyed so far would have been saved and farmers would not be needing to spend more money to replant their fields at a time when they are buffeted by school expenses.
Farmers not battling the armyworm are having to deal with another equally destruct insect, the stalk-borer. God help us if the reported red locust should be allowed to take wing and descend on what is left of the crop.
There are defiant noises from both the government and farmers that the damage can and will be limited to save the bulk of the maize crop and this is encouraging.
However, the fact that the whole sad, expensive episode could have been averted leaves us to join those who are asking what our scientists were doing when reports of the first sightings of armyworm moths were first reported.
Is there no early warning system in place? Do our agricultural scientists not consistently look out for such threats?
It was just a few years ago that we were dealing with the armyworm; in December 2014 when it invaded maize fields in Chipata District in Kalichelo and Munukwa agricultural camps of Chiparamba and Chitandika blocks respectively.
The attack was immediately put down but there was advice to farmers from the ministry of Agriculture to keep an eye out for the re-emergence of the pests.
It is advice our scientists and the agricultural officers found in every district and who should be leading the way in ensuring that everything is done to avert all possible risk to our staple food failed to heed.
Were Zambia to lose this year’s crop to the armyworm, locust and stalk-borer, we would have a real catastrophe on our hands for few of our neighbours are in a position to help.
In the last several years, it is Zambia’s maize harvest that has fed the region, the exports going to boost the treasury in a quite substantial way.
Hopefully, there are lessons to be learned and taken forward, as Agriculture minister Dora Siliya said when she announced government’s quick response to news of the sighting of the red locust in parts of Zambia.
In the meantime, we must try and find encouragement in the continuing efforts of the Disaster Management and mitigation Unit (DMMU) which has sprayed 142,000 out of 172, 000 hectares of maize fields affected by the pests.
The Zambia National Service (ZNS) and the Zambia Correctional Service (ZCS) who have eagerly joined the fight to save our crop deserve praise, along with the politicians and farmers themselves.
Next time there is need for concerned parties to do better since prevention is always better than cure.