“They cleaned me out in two days,” says a distraught Eastern Cape farmer Jannie Louw, who watched helplessly as thick swarms of locusts destroyed 3 000 hectares of grazing land on his farm.
The brown locusts that invaded the Middelburg farm in the Karoo also destroyed the butternut and squash that he had planted for his children.
“I had 40ml of rain. The veld was green on Monday last week and now there is nothing left,” Louw tells Food For Mzansi.
Louw indicates that the locusts are currently moving to Noupoort, a town about 40km away from Middelburg. He predicts that they might start flying in 6 weeks’ time.
“If they start flying, it will be disastrous for farmers, especially for those in irrigation areas. What is worse is that there are not enough people to combat the locust outbreak in Middelburg.”
Louw’s loss is almost a repeat of last year, he says, and tells Food For Mzansi that he is disappointed that the Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform has not reacted to the locust outbreak sooner, because they are aware of the consequences.
“When I spoke to one of the members of Agri Eastern Cape, Stefan Eramus, he told me that they have tried to negotiate this whole thing with government, and they got nowhere. Now this locust outbreak is becoming a really big problem in Middelburg. There are millions of them, and they are migrating in 400-hectare swarms at a time,” he says.
Not enough resources to combat the outbreak
The only person with a licence to spray an insecticide that will kill the locusts, Louw says, lives 60km away from him.
Every time the sprayer attempts to come, he is instructed to wait because some farms are affected by bigger swarms.
“We would kill the locusts ourselves, but we can’t access the proper pesticides to kill them. At this stage, all the guys around me just want the equipment to fight the locusts; equipment such as proper sprayers and the proper poison, because the things that we are spraying are making the soil sterile.”
The locust outbreak in the Eastern Cape began between August and September and has been reported in Aberdeen, Jansenville, Graaff-Reinet, Cradock, Middelburg, Somerset East and Tarkastad.
Megan Maritz, the administrative assistant to the trade and economics manager at Agri Eastern Cape, predicts that many more towns will soon be affected.
Stefan Erasmus, a council member from Agri Eastern Cape, says the organisation has been engaging with the department that controls locust outbreaks in the province since August this year to make sure that they are prepared.
Promises, he says, were made that an action plan would be put in place to combat the outbreak. However, when the locusts were first spotted, farmers realised that nothing had been done after their engagement.
‘Insufficient preparation from government’
Erasmus claims that the truck providing pesticides to different districts has not been serviced on time, which resulted in delays in the delivery of pesticides. Registered pesticides are also channelled through the department. “We have been trying to get those poisons from the department, but we have been getting very limited amounts at a time,” he says.
“What’s happened at the department, especially at the locust depot in De Aar, which is responsible for a lot of the Eastern Cape and the southern parts of the Northern Cape, is that not enough people have been appointed to these departments,” Erasmus reckons.
While farmers, farmworkers and everyone else on the ground are willing and ready to get the job done, the department is not participating, Erasmus says.
“It’s a very frustrating situation and when we try and do all the groundwork for it and cooperate, things just don’t happen. Now we are in an outbreak, and we are behind, and we are losing this battle.”
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