Eastern Cape farmers are fighting a new battle as the brown locust plague threatens their crops. Picture: The Food and Agriculture Organisation
Eastern Cape farmers are fighting a new battle as the brown locust plague threatens their crops. Picture: The Food and Agriculture Organisation

New plague threatens Eastern Cape crops

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Oct 30, 2020

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Johannesburg - Farmers in the Eastern Cape have been fighting for survival because of the drought that has gripped the area for the past couple of years.

Now, they are fighting a new battle as a brown locust plague threatens their crops.

The brown locust outbreak has been reported in the Sarah Baartman and Chris Hani districts of the Eastern Cape.

According to the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform in the Eastern Cape, about 127 farms have been struggling with it.

The department’s entomologist, Nolitha Skenjana, said: “The outbreak is in the Karoo parts of the Eastern Cape, where the insects are competing with livestock for grass. But if they are not controlled they might migrate to crops and vegetables.” She said spraying had started at the affected farms.

According to the department, the brown locust is an agricultural pest that attacks all types of crops, but prefers maize, grass and cereal.

Yesterday, Eben du Plessis of Agri Eastern Cape said it was still too early to say what the impact would be.

“They are moving east. They come from the Northern Cape and hatch at a drier area and start moving east. At this stage there’s not a lot of damage. Locusts go through about five stages of development and are currently walking. They hatch and find each other and create swarms. They do eat, but the damage is minimal.”

He said early detection was important in stopping the outbreak. “What’s nice about them walking now is you can spray them quicker because they aren’t moving fast. When they start flying through the day and with the predominantly north-west wind they move west with it up to 50km away.

“It becomes difficult to locate them. You have to wait for the weather to cool in the late afternoon, and as it gets darker they settle down for the night. That’s when you spray them.

“When they settle down they’ve doubled in size, are hungry and need more energy, and that’s when they do a lot of damage,” du Plessis said.

He said the provincial government’s efforts to spray the brown locusts were helping.

“This is a developing crisis. You can only see the impact once it’s done because they are hatching as they go. The maize is only getting planted now and is very small. The locusts have not hit the irrigation areas yet. In the last report they were about 40km away from the nearest irrigation scheme, between Middelburg and Steenberg.”

He said farmers couldn’t do much to protect their crops. “They can be vigilant and look out for locusts and report them to make sure they are sprayed. That is basically all they can do. In the past farmers have tried to burn tyres and old motor oil to create a barrier, but that’s not really effective.”

In September, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN warned that migratory locusts threatened the food security of around 7 million people in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. They said one swarm can contain tens of millions of adult locusts, and there were multiple swarms in the southern region.

A single swarm can eat as much in one day as 2500 people, demolishing crops and livestock pasture in a matter of hours.

The Star

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