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Our Farmers' Misery Never

The Monitor (Addis Ababa)
November 9, 1999
By Berhe W. Aregay

Addis Ababa - If it is not one thing it's another. For many farmers in parts of Northern Shoa, South Welo, and some parts of Oromia, this year's nemesis happens to be "Coleoptra". A type of insect that has big appetites for and devours sorghum plants just when they are about to be harvested.

If you have watched the ETV presentation on the subject last week, you must have seen for yourself the riveting pictures of these formidable creatures and how destructive they can get to be. This, when farmers, after months of toil and great expectations, were at the point of harvesting their crops.

Their sorghum plants are now good for little more than being fodder for cattle. Consider for a while some of the uncertainties a typical or an average farmer faces ever year.

Will the onset of rains be on time or not? Will the plowing and seeding operations go smoothly or not? Will the seeds germinate, on time and fully? Will there be too many weeds? Will the rains continue to fall throughout the season as they should? Will I have good crop stands? And even if I do might my crops still be struck by some unexpected disease or pest? And late in the rainy season, when fairly dry weather is expected and becomes necessary will it just go out of hand and rain cats and dogs? This year, in several woredas of the places mentioned above, this year's knock-out blow, so to say, came from an unexpected corner, in the form of unsuspected insect pest. But did this pest really materialize out of the blue sky? Not at all.

Outbreaks of such these pests has been occurring on-and-off since from at least 15 years back, particularly in the lowland areas, which happen to be special targets of this bug. This year's infestation might have been particularly nasty.

All the same, attacks from it was not new to farmers. It came as surprise to me therefore, when some of the experts interviewed on ETV wrote off the lapse in their plant protection efforts to the biology of the plant being as yet studied.

With all due respect, we can only say that if people now know the biology of dinosaurs like the inside of their hands, surely someone ought to know the biology of this sorghum munching present-day insect. And what was the reaction of the farmers whose crops and all their inputs were wiped out? To start with, and to their credit, they hadn't sat back and merely blamed their fates.

They did all they could. They fought the monster tooth and nail to the extent of even attempting to save individual sorghum stems. Overall, the pests won.

But the suggestion the farmers gave against similar attacks in future was even more to the point: Let's destroy the pests while they're at their breeding grounds. Sort of preemptive strike.

So far the experts seem not to have much clue as to the whereabouts of the breeding grounds. Considering the fact that these pests have been around for so long (close to 2 decades), it's difficult to imagine how that might have eluded our researchers.

Droughts and floods, whenever they strike leave one with a sense of helplessness. After all there is nothing much you can do to stop these aberrations of nature.

When pest infestation of epidemic proportions such as the present one take place with disastrous results, anger of sorts is the natural reaction. Why, one asks, did this have to happen? Was this not something that should have been avoided at all costs? Well, it did happen anyway.

What can we do to avert similar outbreak in future? If I may dare suggest, first, quite simply search the interment if the biology of the insect is such a mystery here. Second, let our Agricultural Research Organization( EARO) gear up and come up with preventive measures and pass it on to the end users, that is to extension workers and to farmers.

What a lovely challenge!

Copyright (c) 1999 The Monitor - Addis Ababa. Distributed via Africa News Online ( For information about the content or for permission to redistribute, publish or use for broadcast, contact the publisher.

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