AGRICULTURE Minister Michael Katambo says the country has been hit by an African Migratory Locust outbreak in Central, Southern, and Western Provinces.

And Katambo says the government is concerned about this outbreak as it has great potential to disrupt the 2020/2921 agricultural season thereby affecting household and national food security.

Speaking when he rendered a ministerial statement to Parliament, Tuesday, Katambo also said the Ministry of Finance had released K16 million for his ministry to control the spread of the Locusts.

“I wish to inform the House and the nation at large that the country has recorded an outbreak of the African Migratory Locust. These Locus have been reported in parts of Central, Southern, and Western Provinces. To date, the following districts have reported cases of the African Migratory Locust; Kazungula, Sesheke, Mwandi, Nalolo, Mongu, Kalabo, Shibuyunji, and Mumwa,” Katambo said.

Katambo said the first reports of the Locusts outbreak was recorded in March in Kazungula District of Southern Province.

“You may wish to know that the African Migratory Locust is one of the four Locust species that are of economic importance in East, Central, and Southern Africa. The other Locust species are red Locust, brown Locust, and Desert Locust. This is not the first time the country has experienced an outbreak of the African Migratory Locust. The last outbreak was in the 2016/2017 agricultural season when an outbreak was reported in the Kafue flats. Quick action by the government prevented the spread of the Locust and damage to the crops. Coming to the current outbreak, the first reports of the Locust in Zambia were received in March, 2020 from Kazungula District in Southern Province. Immediately, the Ministry of Agriculture and the International Red Locust Control Organization for Central and Southern Africa carried out ground and aerial surveys in Kazungula District and confirmed the outbreak of African Migratory Locust,” Katambo said.

He said Locusts posed a great threat to national food security as they destroyed crops.

“A total of 22, 000 hectares in the Simahala, Kasaya, and Subilo plains along the Zambezi River were surveyed during this exercise and the pest was controlled. This action prevented the rapid spread of the Locusts. By end of March, 2020, we had controlled the outbreak of the Locust. The outbreak of the current African Migratory Locusts is of great concern to the government as it has the potential to greatly disrupt the 2020/2921 agricultural season that is due to start next month and thereby affect household and national food security. It is for this reason that the government has responded swiftly to this threat by undertaking surveillance and spraying in the affected districts. The spraying and surveillance are being undertaken simultaneously to ensure that the Locusts are controlled before the start of the year’s agricultural season,” Katambo said.

“Mr Speaker, currently, the winter crop in parts of Western Province is under threat and this will spread to people’s homesteads in the plain. It is worth noting that farmers in Western Province plant their maize in the dambos by mid-October and rice is about to be planted in the plains. Given the current Locust outbreak, farmers are now reluctant to plant their crops and this may have a negative impact on food security. In view of this state of affairs, we would like to assure the nation that government is equal to the task and has moved in to conduct ground and aerial spraying in collaboration with the International Red Locust Organization which has the mandate to control migratory pests.”

He said his ministry, working with the DMMU and the Zambia Air Force, was scheduled to undertake a spraying exercise at the affected areas, beginning with Sesheke.

“The chemicals and the helicopter for aerial spraying are already in place. Spraying will be done at the same time as surveillance and mapping to determine the extent of the African Migratory pests infestation. Spraying will start with hot pots or areas with high density population of swarms of Locusts while ground spraying will be done in areas where the Locusts are at nymph stage near the homesteads and water bodies. This is to ensure safety of the Households in these areas and to preserve contamination of the water bodies,” Katambo said.

“The spraying exercise will begin with Sesheke District which has been identified as a hot spot. So far, 29, 500 hectares have been surveyed in readiness for spraying. The spraying exercise of the surveyed area is expected to begin today (29th September, 2020 or tomorrow. In preparation for the spraying exercise, government is carrying robust sensitization campaigns in the communities where spraying will be done. For the whole exercise to be successful, it will be done in a multi-sectorial manner implying that the Ministry of Agriculture will be supported by the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit (DMMU) under the Office of the Vice President, Zambia Air Force and other relevant government ministries and agencies as well as cooperating partners such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).”

And Katambo said a total of K16 million had so far been released for containing the spread.

“So far the Ministry of Finance has for far released K10 million for the Ministry of Agriculture and K4 million for the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit to support the activity budget for the these Locusts. The total budget is K16 million and so far these are the funds that have been released by the treasury in order for us to contain it,” said Katambo.