Harare – Zimbabwean small-holder farmer Ratidzo Tiringindi was expecting a bountiful sorghum harvest this season.
But one morning in March, she woke up to find locusts had invaded her fields.
The outbreaks of migratory locusts in affected Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“Locusts finished our crops and we are faced with a serious food deficit. Most villagers have nothing to harvest except that we have sacks stashed with locusts in our homes and we are not worried about relish these days and in the coming few weeks,” she said in utter despair.
“They feasted on our sorghum, our corn and any other crop in the way and also destroyed the pastures. It was a clean sweep,” Tiringindi, who lives in the arid district of Chiredzi, added.
She said the locusts, whose botanic name is Ruspolia differens and are locally known as or madhumbudya landed in their area in February, just as their crop was tasseling, a thunderous noise at night that petrified villagers.
“The noise was so loud and scary, it could frighten even the most alert cockroach in the house. Almost all the villagers heard the noise but we didn’t know what it was and so we proceeded to bed. We really never suspected anything of that sort but in the morning it was something else. The locusts had caused extensive damage to the crops in the fields,” she said.
Enraged by the invasion, villagers started harvesting the locusts and filled large containers.
The swarm of locusts attacked mainly white sorghum which they had planted extensively in line with advice from agriculture experts from the government agency known as Agritex, to plant small grain crops that are resistant to drought.
She added that a number of households were left counting their losses after the attack on their crops by the locusts.
“They harvested our crops and the villagers responded by harvesting them because they are an indigenous delicacy. So it was tit for tat,” she said.
She said word was relayed to the offices and before they even responded by supplying the requisite pesticides the numbers ebbed as people aggressively picked the locusts and it ended like that.
Another farmer, Moline Motsi, said she only harvested 100kg of sorghum against an initial estimate of three tonnes.
“Most villagers here did not get anything. Their sorghum was all eaten away by the swarm of locusts. Once they land in a field, they do not play. I only harvested 100kg when I was expecting three tones,” she said.
Ms Sibusisiwe Tshuma, an Agritex supervisor in the area, said: “Locusts attacked and reduced the yields significantly in a number of wards in the district. They descended and ate everything before people harvested. The situation is sad in most of the affected wards. They however disappeared because people started harvesting them with a vengeance. And so I believe their life cycle was somehow disturbed. And it was before any interventions in form of chemical control was put in place.”
The locust outbreak threatened her livelihood and that of many other farmers who depend heavily on rain-fed agriculture.
In March this year, the Southern African Plant Protection Research Institute detected an outbreak of three indigenous species which do not spread over long distances unlike the African migratory locust.
A key locust breeding was Botswana’s well-known and wildlife-rich Okavango delta.
The affected countries and the United Nations decided that the outbreaks were a regional emergency as they had the potential leave at least seven million people requiring food assistance.