Farmers in Kitgum district have suffered crop failure on an estimated 200,000 acres of farmland due to a voracious pest known as the variegated grasshopper, the district’s Production Officer, Alfred Omony has revealed.
The destructive pest, which feeds on a wide variety of food crops, has been reported all of Kitgum’s nine sub-counties plus three divisions in the municipality.
“They [grasshoppers] are more destructive to sorghum. They eat the panicle, causing the whole plant to dry up. Three farmers in three sub counties reported that the grasshoppers had destroyed all their acres of sorghum and they need replanting. We suspect there are other farmers who did not report,” Omony said.
He said other crops such as cassava, maize and soya beans are also greatly affected by the pests.
“Although the pests don’t destroy the entire garden in all cases, the surviving plants are left with poor health, leading to reduced yield.”
According to Omony there is an estimated 200,000 acres of total crop failure due to the pests.
Among the affected farmers are five vegetable farmer groups in Kitgum district who say they have lost more than 10 acres of vegetables to the grasshoppers.
The most affected farmers are beneficiaries of Akworo Irrigation Scheme, a 100-million shilling project established in Labongo Amida Sub County by the Ministry of Water and Environment in 2018-2019, to mitigate the effects of prolonged drought in the area, reduce dependency on rain-fed agriculture and subsequently boost vegetable growing in the Sub-County.
The irrigation scheme, which sits on a 17-acre piece of land, serves more than 200 vegetable and fruits growers under an umbrella farmers’ group called Akworo Small Scale Farmers, and further divided into farmer sub-groups.
Barely a year since they began using the irrigation scheme, the farmers have been hit by the voracious pests which are eating up their tender crops, causing them to wilt and dry prematurely.
Geoffrey Ocaya Nyeko, a member of Ribbe Aye Teko farmers’ group, which comprises 11 members, said the grasshoppers invaded the area in March this year, and have continued to ravage vegetables, grain and other crops for more than two months.
Ocaya said the group, which started in 2016 as a savings group, incorporated farming into their activities after the irrigation scheme was established so as to boost their income and grow their group. He says he has benefited a great deal from the farming group.
“The group has given me access to many trainings, improved my farming skills and enabled me increase my earnings. Paying my children’s school fees and buying other household items was eased the past one year,” he said.
However, Ocaya thinks all these might change, because the pests have destroyed their main source of livelihood.
“We expected to raise at least Shs 10 million from planting onions, green pepper and watermelon, but the dream is being shattered in our faces,” he said, adding that the group had recently transplanted five plots of onions, all of which have now been destroyed by the pests.
Janet Akiyo is a member of Can deg Cac group who have specialized in growing green pepper and tomatoes. She said their harvest of green peppers was profitable in the last season, but the group is unsure of reaping much this season.
She said they had planted six plots of tomatoes, but the pests ate the leaves, causing the tomatoes to dry before flowering.
An efficient pest
Ocaya, who is also the General Secretary of Akworo Small Scale Farmers’ group, said they first sighted the grasshoppers in the December planting season till February when they were harvesting green pepper, watermelon and tomatoes.
“At the time, the level of destruction was not too much because it was dry season but the pests are now so many,” he said.
He described the grasshoppers as slow-moving, which gives them the chance to destroy all the crops around them.
Lillian Lanyero, Parish Chief of Manwoko Parish, said they visited the affected crop fields three weeks ago, and registered massive destruction of crops such as tomatoes, onions, watermelons by the pests.
Wilfred Nyeko, the LC III Chairperson of Labongo Amida Sub County, said the most affected villages are Manwoko and Bipong villages in Mawoko parish.
Nyeko said apart from the 10 acres of green pepper, onions and tomatoes ravaged by the pests in Manwoko village, the pests are also destroying maize, sorghum, beans and other crops in Bipong village.
“The pests are continuing to destroy the crops, and the extent of the damage on other cereal and grain crops is still not definite,”
He said although the district is aware of the problem, nothing is being done by the responsible district authorities to help the farmers because of the disruptions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Immune to pesticides?
Even more baffling, farmers say, is that the grasshoppers seem immune to common pesticides.
“We are using a pesticide called ‘Striker’, but it is not killing the grasshoppers,” Ocaya said.
Responding to the farmers’ pesticide challenge, the District Production Officer advised them to switch to Cypermethrin, Rocket and Ambush to spray their crop gardens, and consult the Field Extension Workers in the Sub Counties for guidance on how to optimise efficiency in their use.
Omony stressed the importance of adopting a correct spraying technique if farmers are to obtain the desired results.
“We advise that they spray in the morning when the grasshoppers are not yet active. Spraying should be started from the boundary and go towards the middle of the garden, because if you start from the middle, they pests can smell the chemical and start running in all directions,” he said.
Manwoko Parish chief, Lillian Lanyero also suspects that the problem might be with the farmers’ spraying technique, and not with the pesticide itself.
“We learned that farmers start spraying from the middle of the fields, which gives the grasshoppers channels of escape,” she said, adding that they have since advised them to start spraying all-round their crop fields.
Lanyero said that following up on the level of destruction so far inflicted by the grasshoppers is hampered by the ban on transport due to COVID-19.