The department of agriculture, land reform and rural development has vowed to continue spraying insecticides “in due course” to control locust swarms in the northern parts of the country. This comes after the grounding of two helicopters which were used for spraying in different provinces, and subsequent pressure from organised agriculture.
The spokesperson for the department, Reggie Ngcobo, says they never planned on dropping the spraying programme altogether. “In December last year, the department bought an additional 600 000 litres of chemicals to be given to the appointed farmers and contractors who were on the ground fighting the outbreak.
“The department has procured enough insecticide in a powder form to be used in an environmentally sensitive area. In February and early March 2022, the department received reports that the chemicals were finished.”
The department then dispatched a team of senior officials to investigate why so much of the chemical had run out so quickly.
“A decision was taken to halt the air spraying for a short period, in favour of ground spraying, while the team was investigating what would have happened to the 600 000 litres of these chemicals.
“Even before the conclusion of that work, a few farmers reported that there were chemicals that have resurfaced, and some drums were in the Western Cape. Upon the discovery of these chemicals, the team has informed the pilot assisting with air spraying to resume with the work.”
Ngcobo says the department had already spent more than R50 million since the start of the locust outbreak and will continue to ensure that all partners work together to fight the problem. “The department would also like to thank members of the public and the private sector who are assisting to fight this outbreak.”
He adds, “The department has further procured the available registered insecticides to continue with locust control to minimise the negative impacts on food security.
“The department would like to call upon stakeholders such as Agri SA, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape to work through the channels of communication, opened by the department through Agri SA, and not to work against these efforts.”
Some farmers in the Northern Cape are using ten to twelve 200-litre drums of insecticide per week to control locust swarms. While these amounts may spark environmental concerns, Agri SA chair Willem Symington says that the chemicals are not harmful to other creatures and plant life.
He explains that there are two types of chemicals used to control locusts, of which the one currently utilised is suitable for natural grazing and is managed under special registration.
As it is scientifically developed for a very specific purpose, “it is totally safe for all other animals; even the ones that eat the dead locusts.
On the other hand, Eastern Cape Wildlife Ranching South Africa chairperson John Hurter says, locusts are destroying the little green grass that animals are relying on. “Following years of drought, just when we though we were out of the severe impact of drought, we are now being hit by locusts which are eating all the grass we had in about three days, leaving the animals with nothing. It is catastrophic.
Hurter confirms that the chemicals used do not hold a threat to other animals and, considering that locusts can travel fast in different directions, helicopter spraying was ideal in the current situation.
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