Nutrition development advocate William Chilufya says the recent an army worm outbreak should propel the country to start diversifying its agriculture production.
Mr Chilufya who is also the Southern Africa manager of the Sustainable Diets for All Projects at Hivos Southern Africa said the infestation should encourage a policy shift away from mono-cropping maize.
Zambia’s primary staple crop Maize was recently under attack from fall army worms.
The fall army worm is a migratory pest that rapidly moves through fields eating young plant stems at lightning speed, leaving devastation in their wake.
It is estimated that 10 per cent of Zambian farms in six provinces have already been affected.
Maize dominates agricultural production in Zambia and neighbouring countries, in spite of its limited nutritional value.
Other staple crops, such as millet, are far more nutritious, drought tolerant and less susceptible to pest outbreaks.
Yet more than 90 per cent of smallholders rely on maize for income and food calories.
It is feared that pest invasion could cause farmers in affected areas to lose 30 to 40 per cent of their crops.
Since 2007, the Zambian government has spent an average of 80 per cent of its agricultural budget supporting the production of maize.
And Mr Chilufya said the latest attack on the maize crop by army worms therefore highlights the need for Zambia to diversify its crop production.
He said greater diversity of foods on the farm and on the plate is something that is also urgently needed to combat hunger and fight malnutrition in the country.
Mr Chilufya said Maize mono cropping is diminishing the variety of foods in the fields and in people’s diets.
“Zambia has one of the highest levels of stunting in Africa, with one of the causes diets that are heavily reliant on maize. If there is a role that crop diversification can play in halting the advance of future army worm attacks, it is worthy of national debate,” Mr Chilufya said.
He added, “Despite being a much loved crop in Zambia and neighbouring countries, it is high time to ask whether maize is proving too costly at a production and dietary level.