Gov’t Flags Off Aircraft to Battle Quelea Birds in Eastern Uganda

DLCO- EA Aircraft setting off at Soroti Flying School.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries- MAAIF has commissioned another aircraft to counter Quelea Birds invasion in Eastern Uganda. The birds have reportedly become a major obstacle to rice growing in the region.

Quelea birds are small, migratory, sparrow-like birds, native to Sub- Saharan Africa. They breed in thorn- scrubs but also roost in areas with thick grasses and shrubs. According to agricultural experts, each pair of Quelea birds produces two or three young ones, which within the year may wander hundreds of miles in huge numbers that make them destructive to cereals.

Information from the ministry indicates that a flock of two million birds can result in 20 metric tons of grain loss per day. On average, each Quelea bird eats about 10 grams of grain per day, which is half of its body weight.

Frank Tumwebaze, the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries says there is a current invasion of the Quelea birds in Eastern Uganda which is affecting rice farms. The birds caused over 80 per cent rice yield loss last year.

“Last year…, the birds invaded Bulambuli and neighbouring districts, destroying thousands of hectares of rice crop at Zeus Kingdom Rice farm where over 7,000 metric tons of rice was lost. We lost over 20 billion Shillings to the red-billed quelea birds,” Tumwebaze said in a statement. He added that in 2013, the birds destroyed hectares of cereals including rice, sorghum and millet causing yield losses in the districts of Bugiri, Kween, Nwoya and the West Nile region.

On Thursday, while flagging off the aircraft in Soroti to fly in and support the current surveillance and control the bird population through aerial spraying, the State Minister for Agriculture, Bwino Fred Kyakulaga said that government intervention into the control of quelea birds follows concerns from farmers.

Simon Peter Edoru Ekuu, the district chairperson of Soroti says they have not yet received the said birds in big numbers except the usual swarms of less than 500 birds disturbing farmers. Edoru says the district is instead faced with serious hunger situation now forcing people to eat once in a day.

MAAIF has procured 1,000 litres of Fenthion avicide on standby for quelea control. The ministry has also set up a team of 50 agricultural extension workers from all rice-growing districts of Eastern Uganda on quelea bird control and management.

In March this year, MAAIF received a donation worth USD 11 million (39.6 billion Shillings) in preparations for the anticipated second wave of Desert Locusts in the country. The donation includes three vehicles, 22 Yamaha motorcycles, mobile phones and chemicals among others.