Government has intensified efforts to control an infestation of quelea birds in the country’s four provinces where huge flocks of the pests are destroying small grain crops.
Shingirai Nyamutukwa, head of the Plant Protection Research Services Institute told the Herald on Thursday that major spraying activities were being done in Muzarabani district (Mashonaland Central), Checheche (Manicaland), Kadoma and Norton (Mashonaland West) and the Pandamatenga region in the Matabeleland North province to manage the tiny species that flock in huge numbers attacking vast tracts of grain crop fields.
“The birds are currently destroying crops like sorghums and millets (small grains). Our institute in partnership with ZimParks are currently attending to these outbreaks in Mashonaland Central and West provinces,” he said.
“We have adequate Fenthion 640 ULV for the control of the birds. While communities are using methods like bird scaring, these may not be effective as large areas are being attacked and labour may be a challenge especially when children are at school.”
Between February and March this year, the Plant Protection Research Services Institute and Zimparks deployed teams to spray pesticides to control the invasion of quelea birds at major breeding and roosting sites dotted around affected areas in the country.
The major quelea breeding sites included Muzarabani, communal areas near Gonarezhou, Pandamatenga and Deka areas near Hwange.
Nyamutukwa said the institute had adequate chemicals – the most effective method of control giving mortalities of between 80-100 percent – to bring quelea populations to non-threatening levels.
“The birds are currently breeding while populations of the young birds are aggregating into roosting populations. If these huge quelea populations are not controlled, there is a great risk of losing much of the winter wheat crop this season,” he said.
“We are trying by all means to safeguard both the current sorghum and millet crops while also intensifying efforts to ensure there is minimal damage to our expected target of 75 000ha to be put under wheat crop.”
Government is now procuring additional chemicals for quelea bird control to safeguard the country’s winter wheat crop.
There is also a growing demand for chemicals especially in Muzarabani where there are several roosting and breeding sites.
Farmers in Muzarabani are weary about the menacing pests which were destroying their sorghum and millet crop.
“As a department, we are stepping up our efforts to contain the migratory pest. In the near future, we want to use drone technology in quelea surveillance and management,” Nyamutukwa said.
“Drones can help us to access difficult breeding and roosting sites. They can also reduce the risk of chemical contamination on humans.”
The plant protection unit has been equipped with adequate vehicles, motorised backpack sprayers and mounted vehicle sprayers.
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. *_-Herald_*