Locust swarms destroy crops in the Karoo

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Swarms of locusts have descended upon vast areas of land in the Karoo in the Eastern Cape, devouring the grass and destroying crops on an already drought-stricken part of the country.

About 127 farms have been affected by the locust infestation, with Middleburg and Graaf-Reinet the worst affected.

Provincial Agriculture has provided farmers with chemicals to spray the affected areas. Farmers have also been given the necessary information to ensure that they adhere to the insecticide protocols, such as the use and storage of the insecticide and dosages needed per hectare.

There are two classifications of the locusts; the hopers and the flyers.

Hopers pose little threat to the environment, and the department of agriculture’s aim is to manage this outbreak before the locusts reach the flying stage. Pestecides that are used to kill these locusts are not harmful to the vegetation and livestock.

This incident follows a similar outbreak of desert locusts in East Africa, which ultimately destroyed crops in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.

East Africa countries battle with invasion of locusts:

Justin Kingwel, who had previous encounters with such an outbreak, says no amount of experience can prepare you.

“This land is about 7 000 hectares big. We constantly have workers patrolling and looking for locusts. We’ll identify their spots, put a call in for the guys to come spray in the afternoons. And then the next morning, they will arrive early to spray and kill the pests. There’s no perfect science to this, but we are constantly on the lookout for the locusts. Just yesterday in a space of an hour, a swarm of locusts destroyed a large part of my land.”

Farmers are desperate to get rid of the locusts before any serious damage occurs as they are already struggling with water shortages in the area.

“It’s been very hard for us farmers here. With the drought and now the locust swarms, it’s like it’s just one hit after the other. But what can we do? I am a cattle farmer so it’s not that bad for me. I am just hoping that we can sort out the problem before it moves onto the mealie farms,” says one farmer.

“It’s not the first time we are experiencing this. The guys were here yesterday to spray on my farm, for which I was very grateful because I farm cattle and sheep. And if they destroy their food, I am going to sit with a bigger problem on top of this ongoing drought situation,” says another farmer.

Educating farmers on locusts

The gasses used to terminate the locusts were provided by the national Department of Agriculture.

Eastern Cape Department of Agriculture Entomologist, Nolitha Skenjana, says educating farmers on how to manage and spray the locust is key.

“The outbreak is in the Karoo, part of the Eastern Cape where large part the land is used for farming. Meaning that the insects are eating the crops. If they are not controlled, they could migrate to crops and vegetables in other areas. While the management of the brown locust in South Africa is managed by the national department, as a province, we assist as requested by national and we create awareness within the province.”

According to farming legends, the locust outbreak is a sign of impending good rainfall. Some farmers hope that the land will receive much-needed rainfall and bring an end to the drought, which has ravaged the area for nearly two years.