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Rice farmers staring at losses as birds strike

SMART HARVEST
By Kevine Omollo | May 10th 2018
Mary Atieno, a rice farmer at the West Kano irrigation scheme carries her already harvested rice in readiness for drying. [Collins Oduor/Standard]

Rice farmers in the Ahero Irrigation Scheme are staring at losses of up to Sh10 million following a massive invasion by weaver birds.

The affected farmers, who estimated that they had already lost about 30 per cent of the 360 acres of rice fields to the birds, appealed to the county government to quickly eradicate the pests.

They petitioned the department of Agriculture to initiate aerial spraying to help control the birds and reduce further losses.

A similar spraying exercise was last conducted three years ago.

The areas affected by the birds are blocks A, B, K and G within Muhoroni sub-county, which will be ready for harvesting within the next three weeks.

Clerkson Abiero, the Block G chairman, said the weaver bird population was growing at an alarming rate, and that farmers were forced to dig deeper into their pockets to pay for control methods.

“In normal instances, we always employ one person to man up to four acres of rice fields. But the situation has become so dire that we are employing at least three people to man one acre. This is an extra expense to the farmers,” said Mr Abiero.

He said any delay in applying intervention measures would greatly affect the harvest. Abiero said there were more blocks that would be ready for harvesting within the next two months.

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The weaver bird invasion is an additional problem to the farmers, most who have suffered the effects of prolonged flooding, which displaced many, destroyed homes and swept away livestock.

To make matters worse, some of the farmers have also lost their entire maize crop to the fall army worm, which invaded their fields last month. “We have lost cereals and we have farmers who are yet to get back to their normal lives following the floods. We cannot afford any more losses when farmers are preparing for harvests,” Abiero said.

But the farmers will have to continue employing men to scare away the weaver birds after the county government dismissed their request for aerial spraying.

County Executive Member for Agriculture Gilchrist Okuom said a survey by his team had ruled out the possibility of using chemicals following recent flooding.

He said the chemicals would be harmful to humans and livestock, noting that any residue swept into the streams and grazing fields could lead to deaths of animals.

“We cannot solve one problem by creating another. We are aware of the situation caused by the birds, but for now we may have to contend with physically scaring away the birds,” said Okuom.

He, however, said his office was in talks with the national government to secure an aircraft to be used later for the spraying exercise.

“We always get the plane from the national government, and we are making efforts to secure it for that purpose once the area dries up."

The farmers believe the birds have migrated from the Nandi Hills, the shores of Lake Victoria and the River Nyando basin into the rice fields.

There are fears that they will spill over to the neighbouring West Kano Irrigation Scheme, where rice fields are nearing maturity.

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