Japan, FAO Assist Small-Scale Farmers Deal With Bird Flu And Fall Armyworm Threats

JAPAN has donated US$500 000 to Zimbabwe to fight the fall armyworm (FAW) and the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI).

By Farai Mabeza 

The project which started in March 2018 is benefiting 500 000 small scale farmers. It is being implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) working directly with the Government of Zimbabwe.

Through the project, 500 government extension officers have been trained in 10 districts.

“The project has also strengthened the government’s capacity in dealing with these threats. For HPAI, an active surveillance system consisting of two Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) machines will be used for the rapid detection of influenza viruses,” a joint statement from FAO and the Embassy of Japan said.

For the FAW, 340 government extension officers will be provided with smartphones equipped with the FAW Monitoring and Early Warning System (FAMEWS), a free mobile application for Android from FAO, for surveillance and monitoring of the pest.

Speaking during the handover ceremony in Harare, the Japanese Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Toshiyuki Iwado, said that given the vital role that agriculture plays in the lives of most Zimbabweans, it is necessary to protect their livelihoods and food security.

“The erratic rains experienced in recent years have had a negative impact on farmers’ livelihoods. And the emergence and rapid spread of the fall armyworm and highly pathogenic avian influenza pose a further threat to the food and income security of these millions of small-scale farmers.

“If we do not control the spread of these threats, they could worsen an already dire food security situation,” Iwado said.

FAO interim Subregional Coordinator for Southern Africa, Alain Onibon, said that FAO experts would continue to offer technical assistance to the Departments of Crop and Livestock and Veterinary Services regarding the provision of participatory FAW and Avian Influenza surveillance.

“We are happy that Zimbabwe now has the capacity to screen samples for both the H and N components of the Avian Influenza virus. During the last outbreak in 2017, the samples had to be sent out to South Africa for confirmation; yet timely intervention is of essence when dealing with such highly pathogenic diseases,” Onibon said.

The funding assistance for this project has enhanced Zimbabwe’s progress towards five Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are SDG 1: Reduce rural poverty, SDG 2: Zero hunger, SDG 3: Good Health and Wellbeing, and SDG 5 (gender equality) and SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth)

In May 2017, Zimbabwe experienced an outbreak of HPAI (the H5N8 strain). It occurred in a poultry breeding unit of one of the largest commercial poultry producers in the country, and resulted in 2 million birds being culled to control the disease. Poultry is an important part of people’s diet and accounts for around one third of total meat consumption.

Agriculture provides employment and income for around 70 percent of the population. With farmers in the country still struggling to cope with the effects of successive droughts in recent years, an uncontrolled outbreak of FAW or HPAI would only compound the effects on food security and people’s livelihoods.

“This project has, therefore, greatly contributed to the ability of Zimbabwean smallholder farmers to cope with the threats of FAW and HPAI, thus ensuring their livelihoods and food security,” FAO and Japan said in their statement.