Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Malawi have all reported widespread outbreaks, and we have seen the trail of destruction throughout many of our program areas. The pest is not so much a worm as a caterpillar, and its common name derives from the way these invaders generally come in overwhelming numbers, giving the appearance of an army crawling and eating their way through a field.
World Renew has been working with CCAP Relief and Development on an integrated food security and livelihoods program in Lundazi District for the past three years. A significant part of this program has consisted of developing response mechanisms and resilient networks in the community so that people are better prepared to respond together to a disaster or potential disaster. The program works with 900 farmers across 15 congregations, with each grouping of 30 to 40 farmers led by an agriculture volunteer worker.
In the second week of January at their monthly meeting with the agriculture volunteer workers, our field staff learned that farmers across the entire district had been affected by armyworms. It was decided that after the meeting an assessment of numbers and impact would be completed, and a followup meeting would take place the following week. At that next meeting it was reported that approximately 450 farmers from the program were affected and that 200 saw significant losses that would require replanting.
CCAP then contacted World Renew with a proposal asking for assistance to purchase chemicals, sprayers, protective clothing, and seed for replanting. Within two days the proposal was approved, commodities were purchased, and activities commenced. Activities have now been completed, with affected farmers’ fields being sprayed and replanted within just two weeks after the notification of infestation.
The local farmer groups led by the agriculture volunteer workers were the ones to identify the problem, clarify the extent and the nature of it, and communicate it to CCAP...
The critical factor in the communities’ ability to respond effectively was that the community networks were in place to first identify the threat, then communicate clearly and accurately assess the situation, then plan a response, and then, most importantly, put the plan into action with the involvement of the whole community of farmers assisting those affected in order to recover.
CCAP and World Renew actually played the smallest part in this response. The local farmer groups led by the agriculture volunteer workers were the ones to identify the problem, clarify the extent and the nature of it, and communicate it to CCAP — and then when help from World Renew arrived, they ensured that the farmers whose crops were affected received the assistance and support of the group to treat their crop and to replant areas that were damaged beyond repair.
For many farmers, the labor burden to do all this by themselves in the short space of time required would have been too great. But with the farmer groups coming together to support those in need, the affected farmers received the assistance they needed — and this displayed the communities’ ability to respond and organize in the face of a potential disaster. The cooperation of farmer groups transformed a potentially disastrous scenario into one in which the communities’ food security is now assured.
Lundazi is not the only one of our program areas to be infested by armyworms. Mwandi, where our relief program has been supporting drought-afflicted communities for two years, has also been hit by the outbreak, and many farmers have suffered crop damage by the caterpillars. World Renew has put crop diversification at the center of its relief work in this area, however, and farming households have been assisted with access to groundnut, cowpea, and millet seed — all of which are more drought tolerant than maize. Another benefit is that these crops are not palatable to the armyworm. So an encouraging result of this strategy is that while many farmers have seen significant damage to their maize crop, they will still have a significant harvest of millet, cowpea, and groundnuts to fall back on.
World Renew Zambia