Agriculture is one of the major productive economic sectors of the country, and the majority of Zambia’s population are dependent on it.
Despite the sector being critical, fertilisers, pesticides and transport are expensive, and the cost of food is rising, which are all factors affecting farmers.
Yet the production of food is still taken for granted by a lot of people. But to farmers, producing a healthy crop that can give them an income on a daily basis can be a challenge.
Poor soil quality, unpredictable weather patterns, pests and diseases are making it hard for farmers to increase production or earn a good income from their crops.
However, Government is committed to improving food security by helping small-scale farmers, who grow around 80 per cent of the nation’s food, to cultivate in a more sustainable way through Plant Health rallies.
Plant Health Rallies is a new concept and approach, that seeks to offer solutions on specific crop problems faced by farmers.
Against this background, staff from the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, held Plant Health rallies with farmers to share management solutions on specific crop problems.
The goal of these rallies was to create awareness of the Plantwise initiative that was launched in May, 2013 with an additional focus of advising farmers how to manage pests and diseases reported in the places where the initiative is currently running plant clinics.
Staff were drawn from different districts of the country, and trained as Plant Health Doctors. Rallies were held in Rufunsa, Chongwe, Chilanga districts of Lusaka Province while in Central Province, the same events took off in Chibombo and Kapiri Mposhi.
Farmers who attended these rallies were sensitised on how to control various pests and diseases of Groundnuts, Tomatoes, Maize, Cotton, Cabbage, Sweet Potatoes among others.
A small-scale farmer in Chilanga District, Moses Banda has seriously taken up vegetable production.
Mr Banda commends Government for its continued support in assisting farmers in addressing crop problems and how best to control them organically.
“My vegetables always had holes due to Sefasefa (Diamond Back Moth) and all I could think of was spraying but little did I know that the chemicals were harmful not only to the soils but humans and the entire ecosystem.
Through this interaction with the Plant Doctors, I have learnt that due to climate change, insects are being resistant to chemicals and that we should consider treating these insects organically through the use of crop rotation and Neem tree, which is soaked in water and sprayed to infected plants,” he explained.
Plantwise addresses the constant struggle that small-scale farmers go through to produce food by providing affordable, locally available solutions to plant health problems.
Pests and diseases, if left unattended to can have serious consequences. As such, farmers need to be equipped with the necessary knowledge to fight pests and diseases if this problem is to be contained.
Though, Plant Clinics are at the heart of Plantwise and trained Plant Doctors diagnose pests and disease problems brought by local farmers using plant samples on a one on one basis, during Plant Health rallies, farmers come in large numbers and are addressed by Plant Doctors on various crops grown by the farmers.