ZNFU spokesperson Calvin Kaleyi says agricultural production in Zambia has been affected by perennial outbreaks of various types of pests. In the previous farming season, an outbreak of fall armyworms affected around 140,000 hectares of the staple maize crop out of a total planted area of about 1.4 million hectares. Some maize fields were completely destroyed.
The Ministry of Agriculture spent more than K30 million to procure over 60,000 litres of pesticides that were only enough to spray about 95,000 hectares of the affected fields.
Insect pests are responsible for significant reduction in production of agricultural crops but there are concerns that the continuous use of pesticides has a negative impact on the environment and results into development of resistance against pesticides in many insect species.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is using nuclear science to develop environmentally-friendly alternatives for pest control. The IAEA and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) are jointly sponsoring projects and conducting research on control of insect pests using ionizing radiations. They have placed considerable emphasis on the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) to effectively deal with insect pests such as army worms.
“ZNFU has been a consistent advocate for training and research in technologies that would enhance productivity and production. If technologies that have been proven such as SIT can be tapped into, why can’t we send our researchers and scientists to investigate how this can be adopted in Zambia?” said Kaleyi.
“We need to seriously start looking at investing in research and technology that will spur production. Radiation technology has proved effective. Most countries that are agriculture giants have invested in technology and research. This is the direction we need to take as a country if we truly want to be the food basket of the region and Africa.”
SIT involves rearing large populations of insects that are sterilized through irradiation (gamma or X-rays) and releasing the sterile male insects in the wild to compete with the regular male population during sexual reproduction, and the eggs produced from their mating are infertile so they produce no offspring.
It has been successfully used to eradicate several insect pests of agricultural significance throughout the world and has proved an effective means of pest management even where mass application of pesticides has previously failed.
Kaleyi said, with technologies such as SIT, there would be no need for farmers to worry if they did not have pesticides to control pests
“During the recent outbreak of fall armyworms, some farmers received chemicals, others did not. Some farmers had to resort to unorthodox methods such as using detergent pastes to spray their fields, meaning government intervention did not really reach out 100% to those affected,” he said.
In many countries, SIT has been effective as a form of birth control, which reduces and eliminates the insect population after two or three generations
“If armyworms aren’t controlled effectively, the general fears among farmers are a poor crop, compromised food security at household and national levels; and the entrenchment of abject poverty, especially amongst the majority rural farmers,” said Kaleyi.
In February 2017 Russia and Zambia signed an intergovernmental agreement to jointly build a nuclear science research centre in Zambia. Russia will assist Zambia to train qualified personnel to work in the centre, and the new project to bring economic benefits to the country.
The centre will host a 10-megawatt water cooled research reactor and will have a range of laboratories and facilities for manufacturing of medical radioisotopes, scientific research and sterilizing medical products, treatment of food and agricultural products to extend their shelf life and protect them from insects, thus allowing Zambia to boost its agricultural exports. The center will also educate qualified personnel that will be employed in Zambia’s future nuclear industry.
A nuclear research center will make it possible for Zambia to become one of the industry leaders in Central and Eastern Africa. Research reactors create the opportunity to utilize nuclear technologies for social development. For instance, production of medical isotopes to address cancer and other diseases could not be possible without research reactors.