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Plague of hungry quelea birds
devastate crops in eastern Uganda

By Daniel Edyegu, Ronald Ssekandi KWEEN, Uganda, (Xinhua) -- No matter what kind of noise is made including ringing bells and riding around farms with a loud motorcycle, quelea birds have remained adamant to leave expanses of farms in eastern Uganda.

In Kween district, the hungry birds whose destruction is similar to that of locusts have destroyed tons of grain costing farmers hundreds of thousands of U.S. dollars.

At a sorghum plantation belonging to Kapchorwa Commercial Farmer’s Association (KACOFA) in Ngenge Sub County, the birds swarmed the 1,095-acre plantation as the farmers made preparations to harvest.

David Kissa, the chief executive officer for KACOFA, a farmer’s group in Kapchorwa district engaged in extensive farming told Xinhua in an interview over the weekend that the destructive birds raided the plantation a fortnight ago.

No sooner had I communicated to the driver to deliver the combine harvester near the farm in preparation for harvesting, than the Queleas started trickling into the plantation. The birds kept on eating grain from the farm and increasing each passing day, “ he said.

The Queleas are small brownish birds of the weaver-bird family that is mostly found in Africa. Queleas, sometimes called locust birds, are a dreaded flock of pest birds that are destructive to cereals. An average Quelea eats about 10 grams of grain daily, nearly half its body size.

One of the most affected areas in this region is Ngenge Sub County where the continued existence of the birds threatens yields from other cereals that are still flowering.

We have tried all tricks to contain the birds including using bells, chasing them away, and riding round the farm with a loud motorcycle, without success. The disadvantage with Queleas is that when you chase them from one part of the farm, the flock just moves a little distance and settles to continue with the destruction. We are overwhelmed,” Kissa said.

At a vast sorghum farm ringed inside hills in Makunga village, the loud incoherent pitter–pattering of the birds has swallowed up the farm. Ears of sorghum stand on numerous stalks - all without grain.

Farmers have started counting their losses and pondering what to do next after some of them got loans from banks to invest in sorghum farming.

Kissa explained that after receiving a contract from a beer brewing company to supply the sorghum, the association got a loan from the bank to open up the field.

With the investment capital of 231,770 dollars, we expected to reap more than 1,000 metric tons of grain. We had projected to earn 384,615 dollars from the investment. It’s a huge loss. It’s the first time we are getting such a large number of destructive birds,” Kissa lamented.

Philip Toskin, 42, a private large scale cereal farmer in Ngenge Sub County said the birds had destroyed 465 acres of his sorghum plantation.

We are ignorant of ways to contain these birds. We appeal to the Uganda government to come up with remedies to our plight lest there will be severe famine in the district. This sorghum, besides being used for brewing, is also used for making traditional bread, “ Toskin said.

With an estimated adult breeding population of at least 1.5 billion, UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the agricultural losses attributable to the quelea in excess of 50 million dollars annually.

The 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.

The birds are long-distance migrants with a range covering well over 10 million square-kilometers of Africa’s semi-arid, bush, grassland and savannah regions.



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