Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Zambia Starts Decentralising Mental Health Services

The Ndola Psychiatry Hospital under construction
By Paul Shalala in Ndola

Zambia has started decentralising psychiatry services in a bid to offer mental health services to a segment of the society which suffers stigma and discrimination.

At present, the country only has one psychiatry hospital in Lusaka: Chainama Hills Hospital.

With the increase in population and the increase in the number of people with mental problems, the need for these health services keeps growing.

This is why the Zambian government has decided to build mental hospitals in all the 10 provinces of the country.

Dr. Chitalu Chilufya (middle) touring the hospital recently
The first of such hospitals is being built in Ndola on the Copperbelt.

The structure, which is being built at the cost of K14 million is almost complete, only roofing, painting and plumbing are remaining.

The Ndola Psychiatry Hospital will have a bed capacity of 154.

The health facility is expected to open its doors to the public in July this year.

“This Psychiatry hospital will offer arrange of health services from mental health to offering refuge for drug addicts, alcoholics and rehabilitation for youths. Government wants to bring mental health services closer to people,” said Zambia’s Health Minister Dr. Chitalu Chilufya when he recently toured the construction site.

And Copperbelt Province Senior Works Supervisor Steven Makunku, who is supervising the whole project, says the facility will have several rooms for various purposes.

Dominic Chatewa 
“This hospital will have consultation rooms, a laundry room and facilities for rehabilitation. The good part I that the contractor Jearmy Enterprises is on schedule and will hand over the facility in July,” said Mr Makunku.  

The Ministry of Health has already deployed over 20 health workers to man the facility once its completed.

The team is led by Dr. Venevivi Banda, a Psychiatry specialist.

In Zambia, having a mental condition is so embarrassing that some family members are abandoned for fear of being ashamed.

This has led to many mental patients rooming the streets due to stigma.

For those who take care of them, mental patients are tied to trees or locked up in the houses to ensure they do not roam around.

But to those who are taken to the Chainama Hills Hospital for psychiatry treatment, the tag of ‘madness’ usually hangs on them.

This is why this move to decentralise mental health services across the country is being welcomed by mental health activists.

“As President of the Mental Health Advocacy and Support Initiative (MHASI), I am very delighted to learn of the development of mental healthcare facilities in Ndola. This current government has done exceptionally well in the area of promoting mental healthcare,” said Dominic Chatewa, a Lusaka-based mental health advocate.

Mr Chatewa, who himself was once treated at Chainama Hills Hospital, however says building psychiatry hospitals is not enough without a legal framework.

“As MHASI, we are still calling on the legislature to expedite the enactment of the 2021 Mental Health Bill which would replace the current archaic 1951 bill. The bill will set in motion a number of policy issues that will be of benefit to society,” he added.

The issue of mental health in Zambia is so sensitive that MHASI is among a handful of non-governmental organisations who openly advocate for the well being of mental patients.

People would not want to be associated with mental patients for fear of being labelled as a mental patients themselves.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Lack Of Libraries In Schools And How The Book Bus Is Helping

The Book Bus parked at Manyando community School in Kitwe
By Paul Shalala

It is a bus like any other, but this one is a special one.

It is a moving library.

It visits schools, providing books to schools were libraries don’t exist.

The Book Bus is an international non-governmental organisation which is providing this service in Malawi, Ecuador and Zambia.

In Zambia, The Book Bus drives to schools in Livingstone, Malambo and Kitwe where libraries do not exist.

And in Kitwe, Saint Anthony Community School was established in 1998 and this is the infrastructure where pupils have been learning from in the past 19 years.

When The Book Bus drives to the school, pupils at Saint Anthony Community School do not mind sitting on the ground to read the books.

All they want is to have a book which can help them learn.

Some times, children who are not enrolled at the school join in when they see the bus because they know that reading and learning is free of charge.
Pupils seated on the ground while reading books
at Saint Anthony Community School

"They teach us many things: how to read and write, we read different books which we don't have at our school," said Susan Mulowa, a Grade five pupil at Saint Anthony Community School.

According to management at this school, literacy levels have improved since the time The Book Bus started proving its mobile services here two years ago.

"This program is a good move. We have seen our learners improve in reading. There are some sounding letters, words and are able to read fluently. So we appreciate so much. If we compare last year and this year, there is change," said Saint Anthony Community School Headteacher Sydney Mankompa.

And in Bulangililo area within Kitwe, Manyando Community School is another beneficiary.

Here, the infrastructure is okay and pupils all learn while seated on desks.

The refurbished Children's Section at the
Kitwe City Library
And they have various stories to tell about this version of school work.

"I enjoy reading because it is very inspirational and The Book Bus helps me read every day," said Michelle Zulu, a pupil at Manyando Community School who dreams of becoming a journalist in future.

The lack of a library at Manyando Community School has been a challenge for management who have been making efforts to teach pupils without books.

Mwape Meki, the Headteacher at Manyando Community School had this to say: "In terms of literacy levels, we are a bit struggling like most schools but with the help of partners like The Book Bus, we are trying to get ourselves out of that." 

Michelle Zulu, a pupil at Manyando Community School
reading a book
Across the country, over two thousand pupils are receiving the services being offered by this mobile library for free.

The volunteers who work for The Book Bus combine reading and artistic lessons to help the pupils learn.

"We are trying to fill up the gap by providing this mobile library service because we get to drive to places where libraries are non existent. When we get into the bush like in Mfuwe which is 60 kilometers outside, we provide this service freely in areas where these kids don't have it," said The Book Bus Project Director Monica Mulenga.

At the Kitwe City Library, The Book Bus has refurbished the children section and stocked it with books.

However, very few pupils visit this section.

Most of the times, this section of the library remains underutilized despite being rich in books.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Cynthia Sichula: Stuck On Wheelchair But Teaches Five Grades

Cynthia Sichula in class with her pupils
By Paul Shalala in Luanshya

Hers, is a life lived against the odds.
With almost everything seeming to be against her, Cynthia Sichula has triumphed over her ills.

For years, she lived an ordinary and relatively healthy life of a teacher.
But little did she know, that she had a serious affliction.

She was struck with gangrene.
Gangrene is potentially a life threatening condition that happens when body tissues die,

At its worst a body part begins to rot and amputation is inevitable.
In April 2009, Cynthia’s gangrene had wasted both her legs at the knee and doctors had no option but to amputate.

"I got gangrene, i didn't know that disease. I was just told by the doctor, he explained to me. Both of my legs started drying up, i stopped feeling pain. Doctors decided to remove both legs so that in future i may wear those plastic limbs. I actually got sick on 31st December 2008 as we were going into 2009 and four months later i was amputated," said Cynthia.And so ended her life as a teacher.
Confined to a wheel chair, Cynthia had difficulties in getting a job as a teacher.

To make matters worse, her husband also lost his job at Luanshya Copper Mines when the company was placed under maintenance and care.
With both of them out of employment, Cynthia decided to form Zyuka Nursery and Primary School inside her two bedroom house in Luanshya’s Section 25 area.

"I just decided to open a school here in my living room. The school is three years old now and i have pupils from nursery to Grade four."

For the past three years that the school has been in operation, a number of pupils have passed through her hands and gone on to continue with higher education.
This is her consolation.

"I have taught many pupils at this school, some are even in upper schools. Even these who are here are very sharp. Very soon they will go to higher schools like Nkambo Primary School because here i don't have Grade five," she said.

Her condition does not make it easy for her to teach as she is confined to here wheel chair and movements restricted.

One of her challenges is writing on the board.
Cynthia Sichula listening to her pupils in class
"As for the Grades ones and the babies, someone has to move around and check what they are doing and how they are responding to the lessons. And the space here is too small, i cant move with my wheelchair to check them."

Her son, who is one of her pupils, helps out, though his assistance is limited.
But Cynthia is undaunted.

"I'm appealing to the First Lady Mrs Esther Lungu to help me with the building of the school, as you can see the classroom is too small. I only have two desks and a board," said Cynthia.
But her teaching has NOT been in vain.

Her pupils are sharp and very alive to current affairs.
When this blogger visited the school, he heard them recite the name of the President, names of all previous Presidents, Zambia's first female Vice President and the country's youngest ever diplomat Vernon Mwaanga.

The young boys and girls enjoy being taught by their sole teacher.

"She teaches very well and she is sharp," said one of the female Grade Two pupils.
And her neighbours marvel at her endurance.

"Children from this school are doing very well and the owner is making an impact in our neighbourhood. The lady needs alot of help from wellwishers," said James Katempa.
It is obvious that Cynthia is one of those rare souls, who remain undaunted and keep going even when it is darkest.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally aired on TV1's Morning Live program on 6th April 2017 and it can be watched here.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Zambia Launches US$45 Million World Bank Funded TB Project

The banner for the TB project
By Paul Shalala

Mining activities in Zambia bring the much needed revenue for development.

Being the second largest copper producer in Africa, Zambia largely depends on taxes from the mines to cushion its coffers.

However, mining has its own effects on people's health.

Tuberculosis (TB) is one disease which is predominantly found in mining towns.

For example, the Copperbelt Province has the highest cases of TB among provinces in the country.

According to Ministry of Health records, out of every 100,000 Copperbelt residents, about 1,112 have TB.

This figure is higher than the national average for 2014 which stood at 39 TB cases per 100,000 residents in 2014, according to World Health Organisation (WHO)’s TB Country Profile for Zambia.

Health Minister Dr. Chitalu Chilufya
“TB is an emergency. It must be fought in an urgent manner. We need a multi-sectoral approach to defeat it,” said Health Minister Dr. Chitalu Chilufya in Kitwe yesterday when he launched the Southern Africa Tuberculosis and Health System Support Project.

The World Bank funded project is aimed at fighting TB in mining towns where thousands of residents are patients.

The World Bank has incorporated the Ministries of Health, Labour and Mines to implement the project, with the Ministry of Health being the lead.

In the next five years, the three ministries will work together to fight TB in the mining sector.

“The impact of TB on the economy is big. Loss of productivity, loss of man hours and the loss of family income,” added Dr. Chilufya.

Labour Minister Joyce Simukoko, believes that the project will help miners access health services.

Labour Minister Joyce Simukoko
“My office has been receiving cases of miners fearing to report their illnesses to their superiors for fear of being fired. I want to warn employers that we will not spare anyone who threatens workers. They deserve to have medical help,” said Mrs Simukoko.

Meanwhile, World Bank Country Manager Ina Ruthenberg disclosed that the Southern Africa Tuberculosis and Health System Support Project is being implemented in a total of four Southern African countries at the total cost of US$122 million.

She named the countries as Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho and Zambia.

“The project will therefore support the implementation of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Heads of State Declaration of 2012 on TB as an Emergency in the Mining Sector and will also support the region and Zambia’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, which include TB and the World Health Organisation’s End TB Targets,” said Ms Ruthenberg in a speech read for her by World Bank Senior Health Specialist Ronald Mutasa at the launch of the project.

In the course of the implementation phase, a Center of Excellence will be built at the Kitwe-based Occupational Health and Safety Institute where equipment will also be installed.
World Bank Senior Health Specialist Ronald Mutasa

The equipment will help in early detection and surveillance of TB.

According to Occupational Health and Safety Institute Director Dr. Connard Mwansa, the Center of Excellence will make service delivery easy for the miners.

"We will be able to conduct various services we do not currently do. Most cases we refer miners to the hospital but when get the equipment, we will be able to provide alot of services at the center," said Dr. Mwansa in an interview.

Meanwhile, two unions in the mining sector have welcomed the Southern Africa Tuberculosis and Health System Support Project saying it will save many lives.

"We thank the World Bank for the US$45 million project. this will help the Occupational Health and Safety Institute finish the office they are constructing in Solwezi. As you know, the North Western Province has a number of mines and this project will help in our members there to be served in their area," said Mine Workers Union of Zambia General Secretary Joseph Chewe.

Another mine union had similar sentiments.

"This investment by the World Bank will go a long way. It will make the Occupational Health and Safety Institute a One Stop Shop for miners. This will save thousands of our members who are affected by Tuberculosis," said National Union of Miners and Allied Workers President James Chansa in an interview.

By law, any person who is employed as a miner is supposed to be examined by the Occupational Health and Safety Institute which is located at the Mine Safety Department in Kitwe.

Every year, miners are also expected to be tested at the institute at least once to check their fitness.

This workload, which sees thousands of miners besieging the institute's offices, makes the job a bit difficult for the workers and the idea of a mobile team to be testing the miners in various mines and towns is being piloted. 

According to the WHO’s 2015 Country TB profile for Zambia, the southern African country recorded five thousand deaths due to TB in that year.

The report also revealed that 41, 588 TB cases where reported in 2015.

Zambia has only had one prevalence survey of Tuberculosis.

The National Tuberculosis Prevalence Survey 2013 – 2014 revealed that TB occurs three times higher in urban areas than in the rural areas.

In terms of gender, the survey revealed that more males were burdened by the disease than females.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The story was originally aired on TV1 on 30 March 2017 and it can be watched here. A follow up story specifically on the Regional Center of Excellence was also aired on TV1 on 01 April 2017 and its YouTube link can be accessed here.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Nathan Chanda: From A Street Vendor To Luanshya Mayor

Nathan Chanda during his installation in September 2016
By Paul Shalala in Luanshya

He holds the record of being the youngest Mayor ever elected in Zambia. 

In 2011, he was aged 26 when Councilors in the mining town of Luanshya elected him Mayor. 

He served in that position for two and half years until his term expired.

And this young Mayor is popularly known as Nathan Chanda, though these names are his first and middle names.

Actually, Nathan’s surname is Bwalya.

But in the political world, people refer to him as Mr. Chanda instead of Mr. Bwalya.

However, this does not bother him.

He uses Nathan Chanda even on his campaign posters during elections.

But who is Nathan Chanda?

"Nathan Chanda is the last born of Mr and Mrs Bwalya. I was born on 5th February 1985 at Roan General Hospital. I did my pre-school at Bwafwano Community School. Then i did my Grade one to seven at Makoma Basic School, then i went to Chaisa Middle Basic School for Junior Secondary and completed my Secondary education at Roan Antelope High School," said Nathan in an interview at his residence.

He later studied for a Bachelor in Development Studies at the Zambia Open University.

His life is one that inspires many.

He did not have a privileged upbringing but he fought his way to the top.

In the year 2001 when his father was retrenched from the mines, he received K300 kwacha from his parent’s terminal benefits and decided to hit the streets to sell airtime.

Actually, his older siblings got more money from their father.

The eldest was allocated K500 while the second one went away with K400.

From being a street vendor, he developed himself to a level where he has become an entrepreneur who currently owns a shopping mall within Luanshya.
Nathan with President Edgar Lungu in Ndola

"I started a booth in Roan and later i moved into town where i was selling talk time as an agent of mobile phone providers. I later graduated into renting a shop. From there i decided to build my own shopping mall where we have 15 shops which are on lease," he said.

Apart from business, Nathan is a politician.

He says due to his height, people used to nickname him as FTJ in reference to Zambia’s second President the late Frederick Chiluba who was also short.

He joined the Patriotic Front (PF) in 2003 and because of his young age, he struggled to make it through the ranks for elected office.

"In 2010 when we had a by-election where i stay, i expressed interest to stand but i wasn't given an opportunity for so many reasons. One of them is that i was young, i was not married, people talked of so many things. But when Mr Adam Zulu was adopted, we went flat out to campaign and he won."

In the Patriotic Front, Nathan is currently serving as the Copperbelt Province Youth Chairperson.

He has held this position since 2011 and before that; he served at different levels of the ruling party.

Nathan started as a Ward Information and Publicity Secretary, later becoming Roan Constituency Vice Secretary and in 2008, he was elected PF Luanshya District Youth Chairman.

The following year he was elevated to Provincial Vice Treasurer before becoming full Treasurer a year later.

He held the Treasurer position until 2011 when he became Copperbelt Province Youth Chairman, a position he currently holds.

In last year’s general elections, Nathan applied for adoption to contest the Roan Constituency Parliamentary seat on the ruling party ticket.

This meant that he was challenging the then Information Minister Chishimba Kambwili who was hoping to recontest the seat for a third consecutive five year term.

The rivalry between the two contestants was so hot that intervention was sought from the Central Committee, the PF's highest leadership structure which later pacified the situation.

The Central Committee decided to remove Nathan from the parliamentary shortlist and adopted him as the Mayoral candidate for Luanshya.

He later stood and won the seat, occupying the mayoral seat for the second time.

Nathan is not just a politician and Mayor for Luanshya; he is also a family man.

He is married and has three children: Mwamba, Chanda and Kapaya.
Nathan with his wife Chisoswa and his three sons

But how does he share time between politics and family?

"I always have little time for my family. Politics eats most of my time. But i try my best to catch up and i miss my family so much. But the good part is that i'm married to the most wonderful wife in this world who understands politics very well," said Nathan.

His wife Chisoswa is so proud of her husband.

She tips him for higher positions due to his determination in life.

"Am proud, yes am proud of him because of his determination in life. He has come very far and he is one person who never gives up on his dreams. And one thing i like telling my husband is that never let anyone take you down because i know he can achieve alot because the spirit he has, he can go far," said Chisoswa.

Nathan says he has not yet reached his potential, he dreams of possibly serving this country as the Republican President.

At the age of 32, Nathan is one of the three youngest Mayors in the country.

Two other Mayors Christopher Kangombe of Kitwe and Prince Chileshe of Kabwe are also aged 32.

Nathan leads the mining town of Luanshya which he hopes to transform into a viable municipality when his current five year term expires in 2021.

At national level, Nathan is the Chairperson of the Zambian chapter of the Alliance of Mayors and Municipal Leaders Initiative for Community Action on AIDS in Africa (AMICALL).

He was first elected to that position in 2011 for a five year term and last year, he was re-elected to a second term.

At the continental level, he is the Vice President for Africa at AMICALL.

He was elected to that continental position in 2013 for a five year term which ends in 2018.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This profile was originally aired on TV1's Morning Live program on 16 March 2017 and it can be watched on this YouTube link.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Rashida Mulenga: Kalulushi Mayor With An Ambitious Plan

Kalulushi Mayor Rashida Mulenga (Center), Town Clerk
 Seke Mbulo (left) and Deputy Mayor Modester Kabwe
 (right) before a Full Council meeting last week
By Paul Shalala in Kalulushi

At 33 years old, Rashida Mulenga is one of the youngest Mayors in the country.

She was elected last year as Kalulushi Mayor during the general elections.

Rashida was not a surprise candidate for this position.

She has been an active member of the ruling Patriotic Front since 2011.

In 2015, she was elected PF Kalulushi Constituency Women’s Chairperson.

This is how her ambitious plan to serve the people of Kalulushi was born.

“Initially, I wanted to serve people at a different level, but the people themselves asked me to stand as a Mayor. This is because we did a lot of community work in Kalulushi,” said Rashida in an interview at her home.

She leads a male dominated council.

Out of the 22 Councilors in Kalulushi, only two are women.

One councillor, Febby Mulenga Simwanza of Lulamba ward is serving her second five year term while the other female councillor Maureen Mwape of Lukoshi ward is in her first term.
Kalulushi Councillors during a Full Council meeting last week
Despite all this, Rashida dreams big for Kalulushi.

“We want to transform Kalulushi into an industrial town. We have already identified land east of the town where we want to take the Central Business District. We will move most government departments and construct shopping malls and hotels in the new CBD.”

Late last year during the Local Government association of Zambia (LGAZ) annual general meeting held in Ndola, Rashida was elected unopposed as the LGAZ Vice President for the Copperbelt Province.

This propelled her to the national executive committee of the organisation which represents Zambia’s over 1,600 Councillors, Mayors and Council Chairpersons.

Aside of politics, the Mayor of Kalulushi is a mother.

She has seven children to take care of.

Rashida is married to prominent Copperbelt businessman Godfrey Kangwa, who is popularly known as Shi Mumbi.

But how does she share time between family and politics?

“When am at home am a mother who helps the children with home work and I also cook for my mother. I need to do these house chores because as a wife, I need to do my traditional duties despite being a politician,” said Rashida.

Today, she maybe living her dreams, but the road to success has not been all rosy.

She at one time was homeless in Lusaka before she made it in life.

Kalulushi Member of Parliament Kampamba Mulenga
“Life has not been easy to me. After the death of one of my parents, we witnessed real property grabbing. I became homeless and guess who gave me shelter: the girlfriend to my stepfather. I want to encourage people who are suffering, you do not know what God has for you, stay strong and pray to him.”

At 33 years of age, Rashida may have achieved a lot in politics.

But she also has educated herself with the highest paper being a Bachelor of Business Administration from the Management Institute of Southern Africa which she completed last year.

This year, she enrolled at the same institution and she is now pursuing an Honours Degree in Public Administration.

For now as she continued being driven in her official mayoral vehicle whose number plate is KMC 1, the preoccupation of the first resident of Kalulushi is to see her town graduate from a municipality to a city in the near future.

Kalulushi only has one constituency and the Member of Parliament is also a lady Kampamba Mulenga, Zambia’s Minister of Information and Broadcasting Services.

Despite sharing the same surname, the Kalulushi Mayor and MP are not related.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was originally aired on TV1's Morning Live program on 9 March 2017. The TV report can be viewed on this YouTube link. 

Friday, 3 March 2017

41 Year Old Kitwe Mother Passes Grade 12 Exam But Son Fails

Given Mwila (right) during the interview with the author
By Paul Shalala

She first came into the limelight as a mature Grade 12 pupil at Parklands Secondary School in Kitwe who was in the same class with her teenage son.

And that was last year when this blogger broke the story of Given Mwila on this blog and on Zambia's state TV.

This year her story has even gotten better.

Given has completed her Grade Twelve with a pass.

She had been in the same class with her son Chishala from Grade 10 at Parklands.

Having dropped out of school 20 years ago, Given returned to the classroom to finish secondary school with the hope of becoming a nurse in the near future.

She initially started in Grade eight and passed her Grade nine exams before proceeding to Grade 10.

Her dream is now getting clearer though she is saddened that her 19 year old son and classmate Chishala failed to make it, he failed.

Despite this, Given is happy that she made it against all odds.

“I didn’t expect myself to do well in the exam because I had challenges. I haven’t even formally collected my results because I didn’t finish paying my tuition fees. I got three merits and a credit,” said Given in an interview at her home in Kitwe’s Chimwemwe compound.

In October 2016 i profiled Given, following her from the time she woke up and prepared for school.

At school, I interviewed some of her classmates and teachers.

Given (left), the author (middle) and
her son Chishala (right) in this
photo taken October 2016 at Parklands
 Secondary School in Kitwe
Given was an inspiration to all that’s why she was even selected as a Prefect.

And all that this mother of three wants to do in life is to be a nurse.

But due to lack of finances, she is appealing for sponsorship.

Her husband is partially blind and does not have an income

“Am appealing to anyone who is watching this interview, including the First Lady Mrs Esther Lungu to come and help me realize my dream of becoming a nurse. I want to excel higher than I have done,” she said.

With her results, Given can easily study nursing once she finds finances.

In Kitwe where she lives, there are nursing schools where she can enroll for the two year Zambia Enrolled Nurse (ZEN) certificate course or the three year Registered Nurse (RN) Diploma course.

In Zambia, women or girls who drop out of school can continue even after many years.

This is made possible through the Ministry of General Education’s new strategy called the Re-Entry Policy.

The policy is aimed at giving a second chance to those who are derailed in one way or another.

Given is a good example of the successful implementation of the Re-Entry policy.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This blogger also did a TV report of this story which aired on TV1's Morning Live program on 2nd March 2017. The YouTube link to the video is here

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Locusts, Army Worms Threaten Food Security In East And Southern Africa

Red Locusts eating maize in Nalubanda area of Mumbwa
By Paul Shalala in Ndola

The breeding of Red Locusts and African Migratory Locusts in Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia is likely to affect food security in East and Southern Africa.

According to Wikipedia, red locusts are large nomadic grasshoppers which are mostly found in Sub-Saharan Africa while the African Migratory Locust is mainly found in Africa south of the Sahara Desert and its main breeding ground is along the Niger river in West Africa.

The two locusts are a huge threat to the region's food security and their spread across the four countries are likely to cause massive losses to farmers especially that their main target maize (corn) is the staple food for many people.

Already, Malawi has a food shortage and last year, the southern African country imported 100,000 metric tones of maize from Zambia. This maize deal was however marred with irregularities leading to investigations in both countries.

The so-called 'maizegate' scandal led to the dismissal of the Malawian Agriculture Minister George Chaponda last week.

Malawi imported the maize from Zambia and an additional amount from Romania due to a food crisis in that country.

The two pests invading the region, Red Locusts and the African Migratory Locusts, destroy every green vegetation in their route and they cover hundreds of hectares on a daily basis when they are at the peak of their invasion.

According to aerial survey results by the International Red Locust Control Organization for Central and Southern Africa (IRLCO-CSA), there is an upsurge of the two species of locusts in the region.

Mr Okhoba displaying a newly bought gadget for detecting pests
“In Malawi, we have identified two breeding areas, Mozambique has two breeding areas and in Zambia, the locusts are breeding in three areas but only two are active,” said IRLCO-CSA Director Moses Okhoba in an exclusive interview at the organisation’s headquarters in the Zambian city of Ndola.

Mr Okhoba named the two active breeding grounds as the Kafue flats and the Lukanga swamps, both in Zambia’s Central Province.

He warns that if the locusts are not controlled in the four countries, they can cause unimaginable damage to food and possibly increase poverty.

Maize is grown along the rivers and streams an the coming of the locusts has sent shivers among farmers who fear that the pests will wipe their crop.

“The good part is that in the 22 day survey we did with our officers on the ground and aerial survey, we found that the locusts are at the hopper stage and they are immobile, meaning we can control them. What we don’t need is for them to grow and start moving,” he added.

Within February, IRLCO-CSA officers surveyed 240,000 hectares of land in Zambia and they found both Red Locusts and African Migratory Locusts breeding.

During the survey, it was discovered that 76,000 hectares had been invaded by the locusts.

 IRLCO-CSA officers spraying maize fields in the Kafue flats
This led the organization to issue an alert to its six member countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambiaque and Zimbabwe.

It asked for K10 million (US$1 million) to fight the locusts but so far only Zambia has come forth with K2 million (US$200,000).

According to Mr Okhoba, other countrues are expected to make their contributions in the coming weeks so that the IRLCO-ESA can extend its prevention activities to other affected countries.

This past week, the organization dispatched its helicopters to the Kafue and Lukanga flats in central Zambia for aerial spraying.

3,600 hectares of land was sprayed to kill the breeding locusts within four days.

This was despite the fact that the affected area is partly in the Kafue National Park which has dense thickets which are full of wild animals.

Environmental activists fear that the aerial spraying can pose a significant danger on the environment as well as living organisms, especially if it is not properly done.

“In as much as the red locust invasion of maize field in the Kafue flats is indeed a regrettable occurrence, It is still very important to question the quality of the aerial spraying process.  We must understand that there is more to it than just protecting maize from damage,” said Young Volunteers for the Environment Executive Director Muyunda Akufuna in an interview.

He added that the impact of aerial spraying is very difficult to control because wind can always dictate the direction of the chemicals.

“This results into off-target effects on plants, effects on humans, effects on aquatic organisms as well as effects on terrestrial organisms. I wouldn’t say I’m against agricultural aerial spraying; it’s just a matter of doing the application correctly, at the right levels and during the right time of year,” said Mr Akufuna

About 10,000 hectares of maize field close to the two affected areas would have been invaded by the locusts if they had matured to levels were they would have started moving around.

An officer monitoring a helicopter during the spraying exercise
“From planting a seed, a farmer awaits for his harvest with great expectation and when disaster like this happens it's really a great loss. As a farmer myself this is so painful,” said Prince Mnisi, a farmer who has been planting maize for a number of years.

Another large scale farmer Gracious Hamatala said: “Red locust are the latest disaster for the people of Nalubanda area in Mumbwa who are still battling with the fall army worms and stalk borer which also came after the black beetle. The good vegetation has also come with a lot of tick borne diseases and the farmers are losing their wealth.”

Mr Hamatala, who is also the Mumbwa District Council Chairman, said he had been engaging farmers, the community and agriculture extension officers over the matter.

He recently toured a number of farmers that have already been destroyed by the locusts.

The large part of the locusts are still breeding, prompting the IRLCO-ESA to send a small team of motorized officers to spraying fields in Mumbwa, Itezhi-Tezhi and Namwala districts.

These officers have been spraying areas of between 45 and 50 hectares a day.

And in the past days, over 450 hectares of land near farmland has been sprayed, saving maize crops which are a lifeline for many.

Mr Hamatala (center) checking on affected maize in Nalubanda
“With all the support we are receiving from the Zambian government, we expect to contain the locust outbreak in Zambia by March,” said Mr Okhoba.

Maize is Zambia’s staple food and the decline in annual yields may affect the country further by increasing poverty levels which are already high.

In December 2016, Zambia was hit by an outbreak of the fall army worms and stalk borers which destroyed hundreds of thousands of maize fields.

On 16 December 2016, this blogger broke the story on army worms.

At the time, the International Red Locust Control Organisation for Eastern and Southern Africa warned that 40% of Zambia’s crop maybe destroyed if quick action was not taken to contain the pests.

With this warning, the country’s food security was at stake and Zambia’s President Edgar Lungu deployed the Zambia Air Force, the Disaster Management and Mitigation Unit and the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries to supply chemicals to six of the 10 provinces affected by the pests.

On January 6, the Ministry of Finance released K30 million (US$3 million) for the fight against the fall army worms which scientists suspect originated from the Americas and came to Africa through trade.
An agriculture officer explains to farmers how to use chemicals

The destruction by the fall army worms and stoke borers was farmers to replant their maize and most of them replanted late and they may have reduced yields when they harvest in April.

This invasion has since been contained.

The fall army worms also caused destruction in neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe.

In 2013, Zambia had its first case of army worms and thousands of hectares of maize were destroyed.

However, the species which caused damage in 2013 was the African Army Worm which is less destructive than this year’s pest the Fall Army Worm.