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Quelea bird dashes farmers hopes for bumper harvest

23 Mar 2023

Roars of swarms of quelea birds erupt as the rampant, destructive agricultural pests take off from Mogobe-wa-ga-Tukisi (Tukisi’s natural pond) before they dispatch in their colonies to invade the nearest fields.

Their trail of destruction harrows deep the hearts of farmers at Mothobi lands, a few kilometers south of Bobonong. 

These birds shatter dreams of bumper harvest on millet grains which seems succulent to their taste, at least according to some farmers.

A stone throw from the pond, one Mr Onalethata Moiteelasilo claims as he gesticulates in general direction to the north of the pond, is their abode. They roost there for the nights.

In the morning they fly on offensive, ignoring sounds of leather whips meant to scare them as they feed on grains.

“Wa mo utwa gore o letsa seme kaha? Owai, wa itiya, di mo heditse,” one Mr Ookeditse Mothobi dismissing the futile exercise of sounding a whip by his neighbour. Mothobi used donkeys to plough his four hectare field.

He planted less than a hectare of millet and about a hectare of sorghum. Other farmers whose fields we toured barely planted over three hectares of either millet or sorghum.

Mr Mothobi tried to rescue the situation by harvesting grains while half-ripe, but the birds overwhelmed him and got away with the rest.

Trying to protect what they call their staple food from total destruction, farmers fight to the bitter end. By 6pm an arable farmer retreats to bed to wake up recharged for another bird-scaring exercise. To some a worthless exercise for the future looks bleak.

They planted in late November and early December with the hope of harvesting in winter when the millet would be very ripe. They were buoyed by the fact that they harvested enough the previous year owing to the absence of the birds.

It frustrates them that even after seeking professional help in February when the birds first struck they are yet to get any. Mr Moiteelasilo alleges to have reported the birds and was told shortage of transport was a chief reason the officers could not intervene.

Farmers are hopeful that an intervention from department of crops could help salvage, say five bags of millet from the then expected 50.

Many of these farmers claim to have benefited from ISPAAD and are frustrated that the harvest would dent how the powers-that-be would view the programme.

Farmers argue that eradication of quelea bird should not come as an afterthought, but should be prepared for in the beginning of every ploughing season.

Their shared pain, they say, is the fact that grain and or crop destruction by these birds does not attract compensation.

Ga o kake wa ja dinawa matsatsi a mabedi a tlhomagana, ke a go raa,” Mr Moiteelasilo said about a need for diversified staple food.

Although the farmers have an association dubbed Temo Dijo Farmers Association, birds and other agricultural pests hardly feature significantly in their meetings.

However, an interview with sub-district crop production officer, Mr Pedzisani Lelata yields contrasting and professional view to the whole situation. Mr Lelata acknowledges the report from Mr Moiteelasilo and argues that the latter actually reported the birds in March as opposed to the claimed February. He also refutes claims that the farmers showed them where the birds roosted.

“Mr Moiteelasilo came to us in March. He also went to report at the office of the deputy district commissioner before going to department of wildlife and national parks for the same,” says Mr Lelata.

The officer also cleared that he sent officers on a routine check of the quelea birds at the spots known to harbour them round the sub-district especially in some areas in Mabolwe and Borotsi. The officers, he says, reported no birds.

However, Mr Lelata concedes that the officers spotted birds at Mothobi lands, but certain considerations had to come in play before birds could be killed.

“How much of the hectorage have they planted sorghum?” he asks rhetorically before explaining that it would be unwise to go on a quelea bird killing spree for some insignificant hectorage.

“What would be the justification for killing the birds if some organisations with birds’ interests start asking questions?” Mr Lelata further asks and adds that his department killed these birds in previous years because there was a cause to.

The sub-district crop production officer reminds farmers that they are duty-bound to protect their produce from birds by playing their part especially when it is a small hectorage they covered. Ends

Source : BOPA

Author : Manowe Motsaathebe

Location : Bobonong

Event : Interview

Date : 23 Mar 2023