Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Biblical locust invasion: Botswana farmer’s experience

If African farmers were ever to be called forth to give testimony about their experience with what has now been globally termed as “The Biblical Locust” invasion, Botswana’s Ipeleng Kelaotswe is likely to be amongst the key witnesses. 

Kelaotswe’s ploughing field is located in the outskirts of Ramotswa village – some 20 kilometers south east of Botswana’s capital – Gaborone. It is now officially part of the statistics of the ploughing fields that have been attacked by the locust across the continent of Africa. 

Kelaotswe recently shared her locust invasion experience with local journalists, Ministry of Agriculture officials, fellow farmers and a delegation from the Japanese embassy which included the ambassador – Kozo Takeda. 

“I planted in early January and then heavy rains followed, it was muddy for a couple of days and we could not access the field to continue our work. When we were clearing more land, we discovered Fall armyworm in the bush that we were clearing and when we observed the crops closely, we realised that some had already been infested”, said Kelaotswe. 

She also noted that most ploughing fields in the Southern district are also affected, possibly clearing the air that the invasion could be limited to her crops only. 

The Chairman of South and South East farmers committee – David Berman added that the earlier efforts by the government efforts to plant their fields had gone to waste.

“The government tried hard to assist us this planting season by clearing and planting our fields. What hurts the most is that we are expecting lower yields of maize crops due to the presence of the Fall Armyworm. Fall armyworm has done a lot of damage to yields for maize farmers, however sorghum, beans and lab-lab will have a not be affected the same.”

Despite the worry expressed by some farmers and the nation at large, the minister responsible for Agriculture – Dr Edwin Dikoloti says the biblical plague of locusts that swept through East African nations in recent weeks putting livelihoods and food security at risk should not be much of a concern to Botswana. 

Whilst a devastating plague of locusts continues to terrorise the East African nations and with experts warning that the crisis could worsen, Dr Dikoloti says the situation in the country is still under control.  

Dikoloti says the outbreak will not affect maize food availability in the country during the 2020/21 period as efforts are underway to control the pest population and overall damage to crops.

Dikoloti however says if not controlled these pests can do damage to food availability and even grain reserves. 

“The good news is that we are killing these pests such as Fall armyworm and African Migratory Locust at pupae stage, so they do not have a chance to increase in population and do a lot of damage to crops. We want to make sure they are isolated in areas such as Satau village and the Locust does not reach Pandamatenga”, says Dikoloti. 

The plant protection unit in the ministry of Agriculture is reported to be a phone call away to assist farmers on the field through the use of approved pest control chemicals. 

“One thing we want to introduce sooner, is the use of drones to spray crops. In areas such as Makgobokgobo when it rains, the muddy terrain makes it difficult to access the field and pests such as locust like conditions such as these as they are conducive enough for them”, says Dikoloti. 

Meanwhile the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FOA) and the Japanese Government has since come to Botswana`s rescue by funding the fall armyworm project to the tune of P2 million and P5 million, respectively making the total funding P7 million in 2019. Various interventions have been put in place, such as Training of trainers, Extension officers training, awareness creation to the farming community. 

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