NEDC farmers' double whammy: Quelea birds, climate change

Erasmus, TOTUMA chairperson
Erasmus, TOTUMA chairperson

FRANCISTOWN: In the aftermath of the invasion of quelea birds in the North East District Council (NEDC) that decimated a large portion of planted land, there is light at the end of the tunnel after the Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food Security (MADFS) exterminated the birds.

The new development was revealed by Jan Erasmus, chairperson of Tonota, Tutume, Masunga Farmers Association (TOTUMA) on Friday.

“Following the invasion of quelea birds, we are very happy that the ministry finally managed to control the birds using explosives. Although the ministry exterminated the birds just before the Easter Holiday, we applaud the ministry for helping us. The birds’ invasion is a natural calamity that adversely affected the farmers,” said Erasmus.

Erasmus added that in dire cases, the birds have ravaged all the plants on some farms leaving farmers with nothing to harvest.

Even though the invasion has left some individual farmers in the district counting losses north of thousands of pula, Erasmus said there is a ray of hope for farmers who planted late after the ploughing season ended at the end of February.

“Farmers who planted late are expecting to reap bumper harvests. This is notwithstanding the vagaries of the winter season that kills some crops,” Erasmus noted with caution.

Erasmus also decried the effects of climate change on the farmers’ predicament.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the international impacts of climate change can disrupt food availability, reduce access to food, and affect food quality.

Giving examples, the agency adds that climate change results in projected increases in temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, changes in extreme weather events, and reductions in water availability which may all result in reduced agricultural productivity and output.

Erasmus echoed the EPA’s assessment saying that rain patterns and increased temperatures In Botswana have changed leaving farmers undecided whether to plough or not.

“I am appealing to farmers and the public to have an input in reducing the emissions of the carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to reduce the effects of climate change,” Erasmus pleaded.

In February, the chairperson of NEDC Florah Mpetsane bemoaned during a full council meeting that although good rains gave arable farmers hope of a bumper harvest, NEDC experienced calamities that come along with this situation such as high weed and pest infestations, diseases and some dry spell in February.

"By the closure of the ploughing season on February 15 an estimate of 10,760 hectares had been ploughed and planted. Out of the registered 4,302 farmers, only 3,308 farmers managed to do all ploughing operations,” Mpetsane said. Mpetsane also cried out about the invasion of quelea birds in the district. “Regarding pests and diseases, the district is experiencing quelea birds’ roosts and so far seven colonies have been identified. Plant protection teams are busy out there surveying and controlling them using explosives,” Mpetsane said.

The infestation was later confirmed by the spokesperson of MADFS in Francistown, Kelebogile Mosarwee.

Then, Mosarwee added that a technical team from the ministry was on the ground trying to locate where the quelea birds sleep with a view to exterminate them using explosives.

With the birds’ colonies now destroyed, farmers who ploughed late can now have a breath of fresh air albeit with caution because the weather is unpredictable.

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