BY FIDELITY MHLANGA
AT least 30% of this year’s winter wheat crop could be wiped out by quelea birds, Standardbusiness heard on Friday, as farmers called for immediate action.
Shocked farmers union leaders told this publication that national output targets were under threat as flocks of the devastating birds tore through wheat growing belts, devouring a significant part of the crop.
“The winter wheat targets as announced by the Ministry of Agriculture are still achievable to an extent,” said Shadreck Makombe, president of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union.
“Unfortunately, most areas have been hit by quelea birds. If nothing is done definitely the yield is going to be affected by about 30% or even more.
“But if (this is not addressed) the effects are going to be enormous and at the same time the yields are not going to be as high due to the late planting of wheat.”
Makombe spoke as government warned last week that quelea flocks had been spotted across provinces and they could devour swathes of farmlands.
However, authorities said they had already acted to limit potential damage.
Cabinet said on Tuesday that out of the 66 435, 86 hectares of farmland planted under wheat, the country was expecting a yield of 4,5 tonnes per hectare.
Zimbabwe is expecting to produce 298 961 metric tonnes of the crop this year, which is slightly lower than the 360 000 metric tonnes required to meet national demand.
“The quelea bird menace remains a major threat in all provinces, and farmers are accessing bird shield chemical from the Grain Marketing Board (GMB).
“The use of drones to complement knapsack spraying has been adopted to improve efficiency and reduce costs as efforts to save the crop from the migratory birds continue,” minutes released after last week’s Cabinet meeting said.
Cabinet has also approved the creation of a Migratory Pest Control Unit as a department in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Resettlement to ensure surveillance of all important pests (quelea, locust and armyworm), train farmers on surveillance, react to outbreaks timely, coordinate stakeholder efforts and mobilise resources for adequate and effective responses.
Post Cabinet minutes said the GMB had commenced preparations for wheat intake after designating 18 intake depots in that regard.
The minutes said the allocation of combine harvesters and transporters was being finalised by Agricultural Finance Corporation and GMB.
The producer price will be announced in due course.
Government said harvesting of the early-planted wheat is expected to start from mid-September onwards, and fuel for the contracted farmers was being made available on time.
Current wheat stocks are sufficient until the next harvest, expected from mid-September according to authorities.
Government earlier this year outlined an ambitious plan to end wheat imports within two years after rolling out a strategy to harvest 340 000 tonnes of the crop this year, up from 165 000 tonnes achieved last year.
Zimbabwe’s crop has always been affected by the red-billed quelea, a small weaver bird native to sub-Saharan Africa and renowned for its attacks on small-grain crops within Africa.