By: Salifu M.Touray
Authorities and other development partners in the country are concerned over the recent invasion of rice fields in the Lower River Region (LRR) by quelea birds, a development which is threatening bumper harvest and food security in the area.
On Friday, a multi-sectoral team comprising of officials from the United Nations system – World Food Programme (WFP) and Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) – in The Gambia, the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), the Ministry of Agriculture, Department of Parks and Wildlife and the Gambia Red Cross Society (GRCS) concluded a two-day rapid impact assessment of the affected fields in Jarra West District.
The team that visited the affected fields held meetings in seven communities. The visit was prompted by earlier report of the invasion. The birds, known as the quelea quelea, are the world’s most abundant wild bird species and a pest of crops, which flock overnight in large groups to attack rice fields.
Farmers in the region, who earlier spoke to the Daily Observer when the invasion was first noticed, lamented the devastation caused by the birds that covered about 600 hectares.
Speaking during a meeting in Mansa Konko, the deputy governor of LRR, Abou Njie, confirmed the presence of the birds in Jarra West, lamenting that not only has the invasion threatened the anticipated bumper harvest, but also poses a serious threat to food security in the area.
Njie told the team that the birds that flock in groups to attack fields have a terrible eating habit, a situation he said, that has forced the farmers to engage in massive harvesting of their produce even though some of them are not fully due for harvest. He however thanked the team for the visit, saying “we are happy that you are on the ground to conduct an assessment on the situation”.
The regional disaster management coordinator, Lamin Saidy, explained that the visit was a follow-up to the initial report submitted to NDMA by the Regional Disaster Management Committee (RDMC) in consultation with the Office of the Governor.
Saidy further explained that the reason for the multi-sectoral mission in LRR was to ascertain the level of destruction and the impact on the affected communities in Jarra West.
Also speaking at the meeting, Ablie Saho of the Department of Parks and Wildlife disclosed that an estimated 10, 000 quelea birds have been spotted in the affected rice fields. He hastened to lament that the migrating birds can cause serious damage to food crops if nothing is done to stop them.
A vulnerability assessment and humanitarian specialist at the NDMA-UNDP, Dr. Komal Raj Aryal, also affirmed that the main objective of the mission was to conduct a rapid assessment of the situation with a view to coming up with a report that will be submitted to the NDMA and WFP. He informed that they will also monitor food shortage in the affected communities as well as explore the root causes of the bird invasion.
The deputy director of Agriculture in LRR, Lang Kinteh, said seven rice growing communities are vulnerable to the invasion, which covers an estimated area of 600 hectares.