Northern Cape races to prevent locust disaster

“These locusts are at their third hopper stage, and they will fly in a period of 20-25 days, so we are really having a very tough time to combat them," says the Northern Cape department responsible for agriculture. Locusts have now been found in 37 towns and once they fly, they could do devastating damage to crops

The locust outbreak has spread to 37 towns in the Northern Cape with Pofadder in the Namakwa region and Hanover and De Aar in the Pixley ka Seme district highlighted as hotspot areas for locust outbreaks. Photo: Supplied/ Food For Mzansi

The locust outbreak has spread to 37 towns in the Northern Cape with Pofadder in the Namakwa region and Hanover and De Aar in the Pixley ka Seme district highlighted as hotspot areas for locust outbreaks. Photo: Supplied/ Food For Mzansi

The Northern Cape has just over 20 days to combat a brown locust outbreak in parts of the province. Agricultural leaders warn that once the locusts start to fly, they could destroy crops in irrigation areas and invade people’s homes.  

Zandisile Luphahla, spokesperson for the Northern Cape department of agriculture, environmental affairs, rural development and land reform, tells Food For Mzansi that the outbreak was first reported in October this year in some parts of the ZF Mgcawu and Pixley ka Seme districts.

Zandisile Luphahla, spokesperson for the Northern Cape department of agriculture, environmental affairs, rural development and land reform. Photo: Supplied/ Food For Mzansi

Now the insects have spread to 37 towns, with Pofadder in the Namakwa region and Hanover and De Aar in the Pixley ka Seme district highlighted as hotspot areas for locust outbreaks.

“We can safely say that these locusts are at their third hopper stage, and they will fly in a period of 20-25 days, so we are really having a very tough time to combat them. We really need our people on the ground to assist us,” says Luphahla.

The brown locust goes through five growth stages before being fully grown and ready to fly, says Prof. Frances Duncan, environmentalist at the school of animal, plant and environmental sciences at the University of Witwatersrand.

Duncan explains that once the brown locust starts flying, it becomes particularly harmful to crops. Once a swarm ends up in a maize field, it can consume the entire field.

To prevent this from happening, Luphahla says the department has been equipping its contractors and communities with skills to combat the locust outbreak.

“We are really trying by all means. We don’t sleep and we have been working really hard to make sure that we get everything under control.”

ALSO READ: ICYMI: Brown locust outbreak in Northern Cape

Authorities not getting access to farms

Agri Northern Cape president Nicol Jansen. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Agri Northern Cape president Nicol Jansen concurs with Luphahla. He says organised agriculture is working hard and in cohesion with the department to combat the locusts before they grow wings and spread.  

“The department of agriculture gave training to teams to make use of a natural pesticide that breaks down in nature. It will not be harmful to the birds and the small animals that will feed on the locusts,” he says.

Luphahla adds that the department is currently getting cases reported to it daily. Authorities are battling, however, to get to all of them because they cannot get access to farms.

“Most of these locust eggs germinate and get laid in areas where the land is unoccupied, where the farmers have closed their gates and moved, or where some of them are not in town.”

Luphahla says they are trying all means to gain access to these areas and control the locusts. “If there is no one who can access this land… the moment [the locusts] start flying, we won’t be able to do anything. They will fly to other areas.”

Northern Cape landowners who are currently in other provinces are urged to return to their farms and inspect if they have locusts on their land. Alternative, they can give the department permission to access their land.

Locust outbreak spreads to other provinces

Jansen tells Food For Mzansi that the locusts have already spread to the Eastern Cape, Free State and the Western Cape. He expects the outbreak to last until May or June 2022.

“It is on a huge front and it is all over South Africa, you can say. In the Northern Cape up to 400 swarms a day has been combated and it’s an ongoing process. We expect that the first batch of locusts will reach their flying stage in the middle of December. That will hold a huge risk for the irrigation areas of the Orange River and the Vaal River as well as the Free State.”

ALSO READ: Brown locust plague threatens Eastern Cape farmers

ALSO READ: How brown locusts survived the long drought in SA

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