AFTER years of consecutive droughts, Tsholotsho farmers in Matabeleland North province were hoping for a better farming season, but torrential rains and an armyworm outbreak have dampened their hopes of a successful faming season.
Mitsho Moyo, a communal farmer in Tsholotsho’s Jimila area, is one of the villagers who had high expectations following the onset of the rains late last year.
Moyo was looking ahead to better farming fortunes that would see his family through the next season owing to the good rains compared to last season.
He said the time had come for him and his family to graduate from being annual candidates for humanitarian aid to becoming a self-sufficient household.
“We thought the rains were bringing happiness,” Moyo said in an interview last week.
“However, the rains washed away planted maize crops and the ones that survived are being harvested by the armyworms.
“I doubt the remaining planted crops will survive.”
Tsholotsho district was hit by flash floods recently, leaving a trail of destruction.
The worst affected areas were villages in Sipepa such as Jimila and Sawudweni under Chief Mathuphula Khumalo.
Tsholotsho is a flood-prone area.
Unofficial statistics indicate that more than 200 subsistence farmers lost crops and homes to the raging floodwaters.
Finish Ndlovu, a subsistence farmer in Jimila area, said armyworms invaded his fields and feasted on his crops following the heavy rains.
“The worms invaded my fields last week and destroyed my maize crop which I had planted early December last year.
“We advised the local Agricultural Technical and Extension Services (Agritex) office and we got no assistance.
“We are being told that the office does not have the necessary pesticides to destroy these caterpillars that usually feed at night,” Ndlovu said.
Khemisi Moyo weighed in saying he had no money for transport to travel from Tsholotsho to Bulawayo to buy the anti-armyworm pesticides to protect his crops.
Farmers in Tsholotsho are being advised to buy carbaryl to spray the caterpillars. A 55 gramme of the chemical costs about $8 in the city.
No comment could be obtained from Agritex officials.
However, head of plant protection in the Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development ministry, Godfrey Chikwenere was quoted last week saying their teams were spraying the affected plants.
He said the situation was under control, claiming that the army-worm had not destroyed much of the crop even in the affected areas.
But for Tsholotsho villagers, the armyworm scourge is not “relatively under control”.
Moyo said: “For us in Tsholotsho, what this means is that this year we are banking on humanitarian aid. I don’t have the energy to replant.
“All my crops were destroyed by the rains and the armyworm and it is almost impossible for me to replant due to a number of factors which are beyond my control.
“What promised to be a good agricultural season for me and my neighbours after the onset of the rains has been surely dented by the same rains and armyworm outbreak.”
Villagers in the area said they last recorded an armyworm attack about three seasons ago.
Armyworm is the caterpillar life-stage of a moth and their egg masses which may contain several hundred new worms and are deposited on or near plant food.
Each female may deposit several of these clusters. The caterpillar that hatches from the egg is only about an inch long, but when it is fully grown, it reaches a length of about two inches.
Experts say lack of knowledge on forecasting and management of the armyworm by subsistence farmers affects efforts to control the caterpillars.
Analysts say some farmers have difficulties in identifying the armyworm, resulting in many farmers failing to inform the responsible authorities on time, while others use wrong methods to control the pests.