Up to 6 million birds are on the verge of dying in Western Kenya
Farmers in Kisumu County claim that the red-billed quelea bird population has exploded there, ravaging 300 acres (120 hectares) of rice.
To the satisfaction of the farmers, the ministry of agriculture authorised spraying of avicide
“West Kano alone is producing 5,000 metric tonnes (of rice) but three-quarters of that is consumed by the birds and I know that our farmers are borrowing money from the bank and after borrowing they intend to return the money with some interest. This has been a hindrance in terms of paying back and now we are overburdened by loans,” expressed Jared Odoyo, chairman, West Kano Irrigation Scheme.
The government started looking at approaches of controlling the bird and the quick fix for the government — they looked at aerial spraying using avicides and these are chemicals which they spray over the birds and the birds die.
Environmental lobby groups say it is a “quick fix” that has adverse effects on the environment. They say the avicide is toxic to humans but also to non-targeted organisms.
According to Paul Gacheru, wildlife ecologist, Nature Kenya, a local affiliate of Birdlife International, it is important for the government to consider other environmentally-friendly methods.
“It is unfortunate that this species has already been considered as a pest within our law. However, aerial poisoning of this bird is a bigger danger to the ecosystem because this would kill other species which are not targeted in this control and this by itself increases the risk of environmental contamination which is a danger to us and a danger to the entire ecosystem.”
“The control measures that we want the government to think of is something which would minimise the risk of killing other species and also promote other agricultural practices that would help not to proliferate this bird to become in big numbers …. .. I think agricultural systems can be improved and helped to control this bird because spraying is not the right way of controlling this specie,” he added.
An ongoing drought has decimated the horn of Africa and led to a reduction in native grass — the quelea’s main source of food.
This leaves the birds with no alternative but to feed on grain fields.
According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, a single quelea can eat up to 10 grams of grain in a day.
In 2021, crop losses attributed to the bird amounted to $50 million.