Freedom Mupanedemo — Midlands Bureau
A FLOCK of quelea birds has invaded Kwekwe District, prompting wheat farmers to send an SOS to the Government for chemicals to minimise losses.
Kwekwe is among the biggest wheat producing districts in the country and hosts President Mnangagwa's family farm.
The flock has invaded farms around the Sherwood block, including the President's Precabe Farm.
So menacing are the swarms of birds that some farmers have hired part-time workers to drive them away. But the most effective control is destruction of the huge flocks at night in their roosting area.
The quelea finch is a tiny bird in the weaver family that in the natural state eats grass seed. But nicknamed the feathered locust, it can form huge flocks, with millions of birds in a single flock.
Since the advent of winter wheat farming, wheat can allow flocks to survive and grow during the winter season.
Midlands Provincial Agronomist Mr Innocent Dvuke told The Herald recently that the birds were targeting the wheat crop at both grain filling and maturity stage.
"We have done very well this time around in terms of capacitating our farmers. The various schemes like the Presidential wheat scheme and the CBZ Agro-Yield Scheme had bridged the import gap.
"However, due to this outbreak we might lose our yield by up to 30 percent which is not good."
One of the affected farmers, Mr Pritchard Zhou, said the birds were wreaking havoc in the area.
"The birds are giving us sleepless nights. Valuable labour is now concentrating on getting rid of these birds. We really appeal to Government to come on board and help us with the chemicals," he said.
Mr Ranganai Zimowa said the birds had drastically affected his yield.
"I usually get eight to nine tonnes per hectare of wheat for my crop but because the birds have ransacked my field, I am now expecting a low yield," he said, adding he was failing to raise funds to buy the required chemicals.
District Crop and Livestock Officer, Ms Virginia Samakomva, said the district has received 500kg of chemicals for use in fighting the birds.
"We have received these chemicals through the Grain Marketing Board (GMB). However, this falls way short of the district's requirement which stands at 30 tonnes. So we now require 29 500 kg as a matter of urgency to avert further losses," she said
Ms Samakomva said the expected yield in the district had been affected.
"We anticipated a bumper harvest this winter season after farmers almost doubled their yield as compared to the previous season. However, there are fears that all the efforts might go to waste if the problem of the birds is not addressed as a matter urgency," she said.
Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services Minister Monica Mutsvangwa last week said the early planted wheat crop was now at booting stage in most provinces.
Bird repellent has since been procured to ensure efficient control of quelea birds in some provinces.
"Government has begun a nation-wide identification of roosting places of quelea birds," said Minister Mutsvangwa.
Farmers were implored to assist by providing surveillance information on the roosting places and to collect bird repellent from their nearest GMB depots to protect their crops.