US$500 000 shot in the arm for small-scale farmers

Source: US$500 000 shot in the arm for small-scale farmers | The Herald March 6, 2019

Victor Maphosa and Nesia Mhaka
Japan and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) yesterday handed over a project worth US$500 000 to the Government, which is expected to strengthen the capacity of small-scale farmers to fight Avian flu and the fall armyworm.

Japan provided the money for the project, which started late last year, while FAO worked directly with the Government to implement it. The project will enable the departments of Crop and Livestock and Veterinary Services to rapidly respond to the outbreaks of the fall armyworm and the highly pathogenic Avian influenza.

Since the start of the project last year, 500 Government extension officers have been trained in 10 districts, and 500 000 small-scale farmers will be capacitated to cope with the threats.

For avian flu, the project has provided an active surveillance system consisting of two Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction machines that will be used for the rapid detection of influenza viruses, and for the fall armyworm, 340 Government extension officers will be provided with smartphones equipped with monitoring and early warning system for the pest.

The system is a free application for Android from FAO.

Speaking during the handover ceremony in Harare, Japanese Ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Toshiyuki Iwado said agricultural produce sustained livelihoods, hence the need protect it.

“Given the vital role that agriculture plays in the lives of most Zimbabweans, it is necessary to protect their livelihoods and food security,” he said.

“It is of utmost importance that authorities, farmers and the public are aware of the outbreak or suspected outbreak as soon as it occurs.”

FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for Southern Africa Mr Alain Onibon commended Japan for supporting the project, which he said touched on very important aspects.

He said FAO experts will continue to offer technical assistance to the departments of Crop and Livestock and Veterinary Services regarding the provisions of participatory fall armyworm and Avian influenza surveillance.

“As we know, the poultry sector is highly dependent on maize grain as the major ingredient of commercial stockfeeds, and yet the fall armyworm is threatening the yields of maize in Zimbabwe,” said Mr Onibon.

In an interview with The Herald on the sidelines of the handover ceremony, Principal Director in the Department of Veterinary Services Dr Unesu Ushewokunze-Obatolu said the donation of machines will go a long way in preventing further disasters in the livestock and crop sectors.

In 2017, Zimbabwe experienced an outbreak of bird flu which saw more than two million birds being culled to control the disease. Last year, a plague of fall armyworm that has spread to all the country’s provinces infested nearly 150 000 hectares, posing a serious threat to the maize crop.