Plastic scarecrows helping farmers keep away rice eating birds
[Yaoundé] Smallholder farmers in Cameroon, who each season loose about half of their harvest to rice eating birds can now use battery powered plastic decoys to scare away the birds locally known as kweri kweria.
The birds - if left unchecked - can ruin a potential rice harvest when they peck at the mature cereal. Farmers, for many generations, have been scaring the bird from rice paddies using their natural predactors, hawks.
The hawks are killed, dried and placed in rice fields, but the practise of using them as scare tactics is no longer sustainable. The Institute of Agriculture Research in Bambili is encouraging fsrmers to use plastic battery operated hawks that occasionally flap their wings to keep the birds away from the rice fields.
Rice production faces a number of challenges among which are birds feeding on rice before it is matured enough for harvesting.
Like in Kenya, farmers in the western Highland of Cameroon are grappling with this phenomenon.
According to Hudson Agesa from the Ministry of Agriculture in Kenya (kweri-kweria) birds feeding on rice is a serious problem for farmers in Kenya.
"These birds come in millions and the Ministry of Agriculture spends much money to fight the birds. When the farmers send reports, it takes a week for government to respond," says Agesa.
The challenge of the birds feeding on rice in the western highland, in the northern Cameroon may not be of the same compared to Kenya
But, Valentine Nchinda, from the Institute for Agricultural Research in Bambili, Cameroon, says indigenous knowledge could be improved upon to fight the birds.
He says researchers should not only take knowledge to farmers, but, that farmers are also knowledgeable and can feed researchers with information.
Against this backdrop he presented a poster during the 3rd Africa Rice Congress where he explained the use of prey birds to scare other birds from feeding on rice, as practiced in the Bamenda.
"Birds commonly known as pastor birds or hawks are hunted, killed, dried and placed in the rice fields, to scare away birds coming to feed on rice. They sense danger when they see the decoys and escape".
But, it would be difficult to hunt and kill adequate umber of bards needed for decoys in large areas under rice cultivation.
It is against this background that Pebom of IRAD Garoua says that it would be preferable to use a net to trap the bird and use it as food as well as sell some to other people and earn money.
Either killing and drying the Hawks to scare birds from farms, or tapping them with nets would be going against the conservation of animals and plants laws.
Nchinda suggests scientists should capitalise on this indigenous knowledge to produce some plastic birds that use batteries, and once in a while flap the wings to keep rice eating birds away.
Birds feeding on rice are not the only problem rice farmers are faced with, limited infrastructure, lack of equipment and weed invasion are other problems they have to deal with.
By Leocadia Bongben