Burkina Faso: Feathered grain thieves force farmers to harvest early

| October 27, 2014

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Farmers in the village of Pém are panicking. For the last few weeks, birds have been ravaging millet fields in and around Aribinda, a town in northern Burkina Faso. Farmer Boubacar Maïga says he first spotted the birds in the fields at the end of September.

The birds may be small in size, but they are causing major damage. They are destroying crops throughout the village, stripping the plants of all grain. Mr. Maïga says, “These birds are a calamity. They attack the millet as the ears are ripening.”

Bassirou Koura also grows millet. He says, “This year I will not harvest a single ear because of the birds.”

Local farmers have tried to prevent the birds from reproducing by cutting down trees to destroy nests. They are also using scarecrows to frighten the birds away. But they have had little success.

Local authorities are advising farmers to harvest their millet early. Mamadou Maïga is the mayor of Aribinda. He says: “There’s nothing we can do to counter these birds. They move constantly and reproduce very quickly. We can only suggest to farmers that they harvest their crops quickly.”

Boubacar Maïga laments, “I have lost a third of my harvest. It could have been worse if I had not gathered it in early.”

Other farmers do not believe in harvesting early. Boureima Dicko asks, “What’s the point of harvesting unripe ears? An early harvest might only lead to a cartload of grain.” Mr. Dicko chose to abandon his field. The 50-year-old farmer says, “Aside from using the stalks as hay for my horse, I do not know what else to do.”

Local farmers are preparing for famine. Mr. Boubacar says, “We are used to disasters, but this is beyond anything I have experienced. We will starve this year if no one comes to our aid.” He does not know how he will feed his family of ten. His son, Ousmane, says, “I’m going back to Segou in Mali because there is nothing to do here. I’ve lived there before.” He hopes to find work in Mali again.

The coming months will be difficult for those in the area. The mayor, Mamadou Maïga, says: “In years of plenty, crops in the Sahel only provide enough food for eight months. This year, the harvest will be exhausted after three months. It is necessary that the government implements programs quickly to distribute grain or sell it at subsidized prices.”

The mayor has already instructed the regional head of agricultural technical support to tour the area and report on the situation. But it is not only Pém that is affected. People in the nearby villages of Bossou, Koutougou and Nassombou are experiencing the same misfortune. Boubacar Maïga says, “As we are not the only ones affected, I hope the government will hear our call.”