Anjeline Auma, a rice grower at West Kano Irrigation Scheme in Kisumu, western Kenya is a worried farmer. The farmer, as tens of others at the rice scheme, may not get any harvest because of the quelea birds.
The red-billed birds have swarmed the scheme, like many others across Kenya, feeding on the grain that is a source of livelihood for hundreds of families in the region. The farmers have to employ people to stay on the farm and chase the birds away.
“Initially, we would use scarecrows, but the birds are used to them now. We have no choice but to employ young people to chase them away,” she said on phone on Wednesday, adding the birds have become so many as compared to the previous years.
Some kilometers away at Ahero and Bunyala irrigation schemes still in western Kenya, the situation is no different as farmers are also fighting the birds to save their harvest.
The quelea birds have become a major threat to Kenya’s production of rice, sorghum, millet and wheat, among other grains.
It is the harvesting season for rice farmers in western Kenya. Therefore, the birds have invaded the region to feast on the ready crop.
In the other months of the year, in particular, April and October, the quelea birds attack rice at Mwea Irrigation Scheme in central Kenya. They also invade other parts of the country, including Rift Valley and eastern part where they attack sorghum and wheat, the other grains they love.
The birds have not only surged in their numbers, but they have also become so aggressive in attacking the grains pushing farmers to the edge. Their rise in numbers and severity has been linked to climate change effects.
An increase in temperatures amid a lengthy dry spell that engulfed Kenya for the better part of the year has created a perfect breeding environment for the birds, increasing their numbers considerably.
Kenyan farmers have been left with no option but to rely on rudimentary technology that includes the use of slings, catapults and scarecrows to keep the birds at bay.
The farmers pay up to 1,000 shillings (about 9.8 U.S. dollars) per acre per day for services of those who scare away the birds, raising production costs. “You have to pay even higher to save your crop. These birds are a huge problem,” Caroline Murithi, a farmer at the Mwea scheme, said.
Initially, the government would step in and spray the birds with chemicals, killing them but this raised environmental concerns.
“The quelea birds have been a menace for many years but they have now become a serious threat because of the changing weather pattern,” said Beatrice Macharia, an agronomist with Growth Point.
She noted that the long dry spell that engulfed Kenya this year emboldened the birds. “Rice is mainly grown in paddy fields in Kenya, thus, when it is so dry, the birds even have more reason to attack the grains because they are also looking for water,” she said.
One of the things that make the birds a huge threat to grain production in Kenya is that they have three breeding seasons in a year. They are also highly camouflaging making it hard for farmers to predict and know where they will strike or if they have attacked their farms, noted Macharia.
Studies have shown that the birds have huge food reservoirs that allow them to feed large quantities of grains and store them. Enditem