Ball worm threatens crops

Ball worm threatens crops

MAFETENG – FARMERS in Mafeteng district, about 75km south of Maseru, are distraught following an outbreak of the American ball worm.
Farmers who spoke to thepost this week said the outbreak could leave them with nothing to eat despite the good rains they had this season.
The outbreak has affected farmers who are operating under the government’s bloc farming scheme. The most affected areas are Matlapaneng and Thabana-Morena.
About 300 hectares of sorghum is now under serious threat. Most farmers in the southern parts of the country grow sorghum because it is resilient to drought.

A Senior Crop Production Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, Sekhonyana Mahase, confirmed the outbreak. Mahase said they are already spraying the affected fields in a bid to control further damage to the fields.

He said at the moment they cannot quantify or estimate the extent of the damage as investigations are continuing. Mahase however said the damage was “big”.
He added that they had discovered only sorghum that has been affected by the pest with crops such as maize and beans remaining unaffected.
Mahase said the pest was last seen in Lesotho around 1999-2000 at Rothe, about 35 kilometres south of Maseru. And at that time, it affected all the crops.
“We are working hard to ensure that this pest is brought under control and we hope to win the battle at the end of the day,” he said.

He said the ministry was already dispatching teams to the affected district to fight the worm. Mahase said if this outbreak is not attended to on time, it can leave many farmers wallowing in poverty.

He added they are using sprayers that were donated by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) to fight the worms.
Many farmers country-wide had high hopes that they would have a decent harvest this season following good rains experienced last year and earlier this year.
But such hopes are likely to be dashed if the worm is not quickly defeated.

Meanwhile, Borja Miguelez from FAO, told thepost the agency had in 2013/14 supported the Ministry of Agriculture to fight the army worm under a project funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Office.

He said the FAO provided substantial control equipment which included vehicle mounted sprayers, hand held ULV sprayers, standard sprayers, chemicals, protection gear, rain gauges and pheromone traps.

The equipment was distributed to all of Lesotho’s 10 districts.
Miguelez said they had also provided technical assistance on pest control by hiring a sprayers’ expert to assist in the optimisation of this equipment. The expert was in Lesotho a few days ago, he said.

But agricultural experts told thepost this week that spraying the crops directly could prove fatal as it would amount to poisoning the crops because most have reached maturity stage. Lesotho’s farmers had hoped they would get a bumper harvest this year because of the good rains during the 2016/17 ploughing season.
’Mabakuena Bulane, 61, one of the farmers whose fields have been invaded by the pest, said unless the government acts quickly to fight the pest their crops could be ruined.

Majara Molupe

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