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Quelea Birds threat to wheat farmers

Narok County is known for wheat production as it is the largest producing county in the country after Nakuru, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu and Nanyuki.

However, invasion by Quelea Birds into the wheat farms has been giving the farmers sleepless nights as the birds could destroy over 40 per cent of the expected harvest.

Narok Chief Officer in charge of Agriculture David Letuati confirmed that the Quelea Birds were a constant threat to the large and small scale wheat farmers in the county.

“The birds are collectively capable of destroying 40 bags of wheat per day, each bird consuming about 10 grammes of crops each day. If nothing is done the birds can ruin more than 40 per cent of the expected harvest,” said Letuati.

He revealed that the population of Quelea Birds in the county is over 10 million, which poses a big threat to the farmers if nothing is done.

The birds are long-distance migrants, with a capability of covering a range of over 10 million square kilometers and a colony of 1 million to 5 million birds can consume 50 tons of grain a day.

The most affected areas in the county are the highland places like Melili, Ololulunga, Nairasirasa, Ilmashiariani, Nkareta, and Nairagiyie Enkare areas where wheat is commonly grown.

Some farmers whose yield were affected by the quelea menace have asked the government to take an early action ahead of the upcoming planting season as the birds love the wheat’s milk bud at the soft dough stage.

Wilson Marima, a wheat farmer in Melili area in Narok North Sub County said once the birds attacked the buds, the young wheat plants dry out.

He said in some seasons, the colonies raid the wheat farms as early as 6am until 5pm. This forces the farmers to keep vigilant in their farms to keep chasing them.

“We understand that the avicide needs to be regulated for the safety of the community and the environment. That is why we ask the Government to help provide more efficient ways to control the Quelea Birds,” he said.

Marima observed that so far, the leasing foreign wheat farmers were the only ones able to afford to spray their own fields while the small scale farmers’ sometime watched as their fields were completely destroyed by the birds.

Another farmer, Milton Salaon from Ololpil area in Narok North Sub County, said the birds have discouraged many farmers from planting wheat and sorghum as they consumed a lot of grains.

He asked the government to intervene and help in eradicating the birds that caused economical threat to the farmers.

Nevertheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel as the chief officer confirmed that the department has collaborated with institutions like the State Department for Plant Protection Services and Desert Locust Control Organization of Eastern Africa to do surveillance reports on the birds’ movement.

“One quelea roost (colony) contains two to three million Quelea Birds. In the year 2021, we worked with the State Department for Plant Protection Services to destroy three quelea roosts using avicide,” said Letuati.

The colonies were destroyed at Nkorkorri area in Narok West Sub County, Nkaretta and Oloropil areas in Narok North Sub County.

In 2019, he said the departments used Sh200 million to aerial spray over 65, 000 hectares of wheat plantations in Nairasirasa, Ilmashariani and Melelo areas.

The spraying covered only 40 per cent of the wheat in the county that was at risk from the birds. The birds’ population destroyed was estimated to be over 7 million.

The Chief Officer told KNA that during the short rains season, two colonies had been identified in the upper zones of Mau Region that comprises of Melili, Olchoro and Eneeng’etia regions.

But he pointed out that some of the birds were expected to migrate back to their major breeding sites discovered around Lake Natron in Tanzania, where millet and sorghum plantations are found.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries coordinates the avicide spraying aircraft that is shared in the East African region. The State’s Directorate of Plant Protection and food safety guides the application of pest prevention and control practices.

He said that it is estimated that over 120,000 tons declined in the wheat harvest last year due to invasion of the birds.

Other crops invaded by Quelea Birds are barley, millet, oats, rice and sorghum. The birds do not attack maize crops as their beaks were too small to cope with the large seeds.

The invasion of the birds is a threat to food production as the country stares at a food shortage crisis following changing rainfall patterns and invasion of desert locusts.

President Uhuru Kenyatta on September 8, 2021 declared drought as a national pandemic following the decreased or no rainfall in 22 counties in the country where Narok was named as one of the most affected counties.

By Ann Salaton and Lavera Ndanunga

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