* Strategic reserve is half its optimal size
* Government's main focus is on fall armyworm
* Fears pest will infest sugarcane and spread
(Adds detail, quote)
By MacDonald Dzirutwe
HARARE, March 2 Zimbabwe, which is recovering
from drought and battling a pest that threatens its maize crop,
has budgeted $140 million to buy maize from farmers for its
strategic reserve, Agriculture Minister Joseph Made told
parliament on Thursday.
Harare is holding 250,000 tonnes of maize in strategic
reserves, half of its optimal requirements, enough to last six
months, the minister said.
Zimbabwe has relied on maize imports and food aid to meet
domestic demand of 1.8 million tonnes. Critics blame the
shortage on President Robert Mugabe's seizures of white-owned
commercial farms in 2000.
Made told a parliamentary committee farmers planted 1.2
million hectares of maize for the 2016/17 season, a 55 percent
increase over last season when an El Nino-triggered drought hit
plantings and production.
He said the government's main focus at the moment is on
containing an outbreak of fall armyworms, an invasive South
American pest that threatens maize crops from Congo to South
The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said last
month that up to 130,000 hectares of maize, over 10 percent of
Zimbabwe's crop, could be affected by the pest.
Made said the fall armyworm was "most elusive and difficult
to deal with" and might be spreading to the sugarcane belt in
the south of the country.
"If it goes into sugarcane, it can stay there undetected and
breed," the minister said, adding the pest could also harm fruit
and vegetables if not contained.
"Speaking as a scientist, it is not possible to say we can
wipe it out. We will have to fight it by all means," he said.
Made said the government had sent officials to South America
to learn how to contain the fall armyworm. Agriculture
ministers from the southern African region will meet in Botswana
this month to come up with a response to the pest, he said.
(Editing by James Macharia/Ruth Pitchford)