Sifelani Tsiko Agric, & Innovations Editor
Zimbabwe has imported chemicals from Kenya and China to control quelea birds, which are posing a serious threat to this year’s bumper winter wheat crop in the country’s five provinces, a senior official of the Plant Quarantine and Plant Protection Research Services Institute has said.
Shingirai Nyamutukwa, head of the institute, told The Herald yesterday that the country had started receiving batches of chemicals imported from Kenya and China as the country steps up efforts to save its bountiful winter wheat crop that is estimated to hit about 300 000 tonnes this season.
“Chemicals have started trickling into the country from Kenya as we intensify efforts to control marauding quelea birds which are destroying the country’s winter wheat crop,” he said.
“We received chemicals over the weekend and the bulk of the chemicals are expected from today onwards. We are expecting to receive about 1 000 litres from Kenya and about 5000 litres from China.”
Quelea birds — tiny species — were flocking in huge numbers attacking vast tracts of wheat fields in Mashonaland Central, East and West, Midlands and Manicaland. Harvesting of the crop is underway but the quelea bird invasion, if not controlled adequately, would result in many farmers incurring huge losses.
About 95 percent of wheat damage is due to quelea birds while rodents and insect pests cause minor damage, experts say.
Small grain farmers (sorghum and millets) also face challenges with quelea birds.
Last season farmers produced wheat enough to take the country for nine months and this season they are expected to harvest more than 300 000 tonnes.
Already there are 70 000 tonnes of the cereal in stock, consolidating the country’s efforts for wheat self-sufficiency. Zimbabwe consumes about 360 000 tonnes of the cereal annually.
At present, teams from the Plant Quarantine and Plant Protection Research Services Institute and the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority are on the ground working to control and manage the birds in endemic parts of the country.
Resources have been mobilised to support the teams.
“We are targeting badly affected areas in all Mashonaland provinces, Matabeleland North and South, Midlands, Masvingo and Manicaland. I understand more than US$230 000 has been spent to procure the chemicals and we are quite confident that we will control the birds,” Nyamutukwa said. “The arrival of the chemicals will help a lot in controlling the menacing birds. We are very optimistic that we will save the current wheat crop.”
Nyamutukwa urged farmers to continue to employ other bird control strategies such as bird scaring by workers through the use of scare crows, repellents like Bird Shield and the beating of metal objects.
Quelea birds have been a threat to summer subsistence small grains and commercial winter cereal cropping in Zimbabwe for years. Each tiny bird can feed on four grams of wheat per day and experts say a million birds can result in losses exceeding 40 000 tonnes when the quelea birds invade fields in large flocks.
The red-billed quelea is a small weaver bird native to sub-Saharan Africa and renowned for its attacks on small-grain crops within Africa. It is the most numerous bird species in the world, with a peak post-breeding population estimated at 1,8 billion.
Nomadic super-colonies can grow to millions of birds, making quelea not only the most abundant bird in the world but also the most destructive to cereal grains, especially sorghum and millets as well as wheat, rice and barley.