Tanzania: Sorghum farmers get creative to scare away birds

| July 11, 2016

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The sorghum fields in Msisi village look a little strange. Black, white, and clear bags flap from the top of the stalks.

Msisi village is a 10-minute drive from Singida town in central Tanzania. Fatuma Ali Lida is a local farmer who has been growing sorghum her entire life. She grows the cereal to feed her eight children, so that she can sell the sunflowers she also grows. But every season, she struggles to keep the birds from devouring her crop before it can be harvested.

This year, the 53-year-old tried a few innovative ideas to deal with the birds.

Like many farmers in this region, she tied plastic bags to the top of the sorghum plant, so that they wave in the wind and scare off birds.

Salum Athumani is the district extension officer for Singida. He says the quelea quelea birds attack the sorghum only when the seeds are in the milk stage, before the crop has matured.

Mr. Athumani says the birds attack many crops. He recommends that farmers continue to use traditional methods to fight the birds. If these become less effective, the alternative is for the district to use an airplane to spray chemicals that deter the birds.

Pili Athumani lives in nearby Mnung’una village. She has also tried tying plastic bags to her sorghum to keep the birds away, but is looking for new ideas. She says, “Using bags is useful to some degree, but [eventually] the birds get used to them and stop being scared. Also, the bags work much better if there is wind, as when the wind blows it causes some noise which scares the birds. So when there is no wind, it becomes less effective.”

That is why Mrs. Lida has also devised an alternative system. She strung a wire across her field and attached a tin can and plastic bags to the wire. She rattles and shakes the wire herself, making noise to scare the birds away when there is no wind.

Despite the farmers’ efforts, birds destroyed much of their crop, although the lack of rain this year also affected the sorghum harvest. Mrs. Athumani says she harvested just one sack of sorghum, but could have harvested at least five, if not for the birds and the poor rains.

She even planted late to avoid the birds, as recommended by a farming program on the radio. And like many of her neighbours, she planted two early-maturing varieties of sorghum—known as Masia 1 and Masia 2—that were discussed on the program.

Now that she has reaped what she sowed, Mrs. Lida and her eight children will eat the sorghum she managed to harvest—and will continue to be creative when deterring the birds next season.