Quelea Birds Destroy Crops In Bulilima

Red-Quelea birds will leave Bulilima farmers with a harvest deficit. Image by New Humanitarian

BY VUSINDLU MAPHOSA | @The_CBNews | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. | APR 1, 2021

In Bulilima, crops are at the mercy of quelea birds, and sadly, there seems to be no solution in place.

BULILIMA (The Citizen Bulletin) — What promised to be a good harvest this year for some villagers in the Bulilima District of Matabeleland South is turning out to be a nightmare due to invasion by destructive Red- Quelea birds.

Villagers, especially those who grew small grain crops such as millet and sorghum in ward ten at Mafa village, say the birds have invaded their area, causing damage to their crops, their fear yields will reduce significantly.
The villagers are now resorting to prematurely harvesting their crops or spending a lot of time guarding the fields against the birds' invasion, taking away most of their productive time.
Linos Khumalo says the Quelea birds, which can decimate a hectare of millet and sorghum crops within a few days, threaten the community's food security.

“The swarm of these birds, locally known as intaka ebomvu, have invaded our community and appear to have come from neighbouring Botswana.”
Linos Khumalo, Bulilima villager

“Irrigation schemes in the neighbouring country spray the birds as part of their pest control measures, and this leads them to flee from there, leading to an uncontrollable influx into Zimbabwe,” Khumalo says.
Another villager in the same ward Sikhathele Dube says they have to wake up quite early to guard their crops against the destructive birds.
“These birds have become a menace as they can eat a whole field within a couple of days. We wake up at 4 am and spend the whole day in the fields to protect our crops from these birds,” says Dube.
“This has hastened some of us to harvest our crops in fear of losses.”  
Never Ndlovu says it has been a nightmare to chase away the birds which often flee to a different section of the fields, but his only solution, for now, is counter-productive.
“It is not easy to deal with these birds because when you are on the other side of the fields, the birds swarm to the other side, and you will spend the whole day moving up and down. So I end up taking several family members to guard the fields at different positions, which means all other work gets stagnant,” he says.

Villagers spend time in the fields scaring marauding birds to save their crops. Image by New Humanitarian

The villagers have called for the district campfire team to activate crops protection measures and save the farmers from the losses they are likely to incur.
Bulilima Rural District Council Chief Executive Officer John Brown Ncube says the council has not yet received any reports connected with the Quelea birds but says when such reports are made; the local authority engages the Agricultural Extension department to assist.
“We have not yet received any report. If reported, we can request Agritex to assist by taking mitigatory measures,” Ncube says.
Matabeleland South Acting Provincial Agricultural officer Mkhunjulelwa Ndlovu promised to find out about the birds' menace from the Bulilima District Agritex officers.
“I will check with the district, but the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority should be consulted to control the birds,” he says.
ZimParks spokesperson Tinashe Farawo says the problems of wildlife-human conflict are all over, and the affected communities must always alert the department whenever they encounter such issues.
“When communities see wildlife in their areas, they must reach out to us, and when that is done, we always reach the areas in time to avert the situation,” Farawo says.
The Food Agricultural Organisation states that for thousands of years, subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have been at the mercy of the Red-billed Quelea bird, sky-blackening flocks of the tiny “feathered locust” still decimate fields across the continent.

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The organisation notes that Quelea populations are notoriously robust. Millions of birds are killed every year, but “reducing their numbers is highly problematic since they are highly mobile and have few natural predators while they breed extremely fast.”
“Man has been unable to make a serious impact despite the arsenal of weapons available. Since the beginning of 2009, relief agencies in Africa have reported Quelea bird swarms with a direct impact on food security in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Tanzania, Mozambique and Namibia,” FAO says.

Clive Elliot, a retired Quelea expert, has been quoted in the media saying that flocks have no respect for national boundaries. It is difficult to invest in the birds’ national eradication programmes.
“The destruction is patchy - at a national level, a country loses only up to five per cent [of crops], but for the individual farmer whose entire crop is wiped out, that is little comfort,” he says.

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Red- Quelea birds, Bulilima Rural District Council, Harvests destroyed, Bulilima

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