Quelea that occur in large flocks can cause damage by eating, trampling or even roosting.
BY KIPCHUMBA KEMEI
Hundreds of quelea birds have invaded wheat farms in Narok County threatening to decimate thousands of acres of the crop.
The destructive birds which migrated from Lake Magadi and Natron in Tanzania where they bred last week descended on farms in Nkorinkori, Ololulung’a, Katakala, Ntulele, Ololulung’a, Nkareta, Olopito and other wheat belts in the south and north of the farming areas.
Farmers are worried, if not contained they might feed on wheat, compromising harvests.
“They have invaded in large numbers, making it difficult for us to manually scare them away,” Mr Dancan Totona, a large scale farmer from Olopito area said.
He asked agriculture ministry to move with haste, warning that should it delay by another week, the birds, still migrating from their breeding areas to the farms would cause loses running into millions of shillings.
Farmers in the areas that harvesting is underway are getting an average of 10 bags per acre this season down from 22 to 27 bags last season.
Sub-standard and adulterated subsidised government fertilisers, heavy rains, now the birds’ invasion among other factors have conspired to deny them bumper harvests, the local agriculture office says.
A PLANE TO BE DISPATCHED IN THE AFFECTED AREAS
A farmer in Nkorinkori wheat belt where harvesting has started inspects his produce.
Mr Maurice Suji, the County Director of Agriculture who assured farmers that action would be taken, said the department of Crop Protection Unit under the Agriculture Ministry would in less than a week dispatch a plane for chemical spraying to contain the birds.
“We have completed surveys in identifying their brooding areas. The pesticides we have bought will be applied along their roosting sites,” he said.
He added that enough Jet-A fuel for the exercise has been purchased and advises herders to keep their animals off grazing fields near wheat plantations because of the harmful effects of the pesticides.
In the areas where harvesting has started, the price of a 90 kg bag that is being offered by middlemen has dropped from Sh3, 100 last season to Sh2, 200.
GOVERNMENT ASKED TO STABLISE WHEAT PRICE
Affected farmers want the government to intervene to stabilise the price, warning that if interventions would not be forthcoming, the price would continue to plunge.
Heavy rainfall during the months of March, April and May when they were planting and when the crop was at flowering stages made the fields flooded and cold, they add.
“The harvests are poor and also the price being offered by middlemen is below. If the government does not stabilise prices, we will have problems repaying loans we borrowed from financial institutions for production,” Mr Lekina Kameto, a large scale farmer in Nkorinkori wheat belt said.
Apart from loans repayments, he adds that most of them would be unable to finance next year’s production because of the dip in prices.
The cost of production per acre, farmers note have risen from Sh35, 000 to 47, 000 over the last two seasons, making farming an expensive venture to those who farm between 20 to 50 acres.
“The cost of production have continued to rise, making it difficult for small scale farmers to continue being in business. It is most expensive to those who are on lease or rent agreements with landlords,” Mr Kameto said.
MILLERS HAVE STARTED BUYING THE GRAIN FROM FARMERS
He says millers have not started buying the grains from them, claiming they still have huge stocks from last year’s purchase.
“Millers are yet to come. Those we have talked with say they have enough wheat in their stores. Those who will be coming will not buy all the harvests, leaving us stuck with our produce,” he says.
He adds that most farmers lack storage facilities and expressed concern that further delays in disposing them would result in huge post harvest losses.
Mr Abdul Said, a field manager with Eldoret Grains Ltd says millers are yet to meet with the government to set prices.
“We will be meeting treasury officials soon to deliberate on prices to be offered. Until that happens, we will not start buying wheat in any part of the country,” he said.