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Bullets and birds July 12th, 2015 by

While chatting with Vera Kuijpers, to write our earlier blog story on Forgotten vegetables, I was reminded again that there were not only many crops of which we have forgotten the importance, but that farmers also often struggle with forgotten pests that have been neglected by formal research.

Vera took me on a tour on their organic farm “Het Eikelenhof” in the eastern part of Belgium, and we talked about the various things we saw. A line of 6-year old, blossoming apple trees mark the edge of the farm, while a nature reserve of woodlots and heath marks the far end. Each apple tree has a wooden pole next to its stem, with a rusted tin can on top of it.

“This is just like farmers in Africa do to protect their wood from infiltrating rain,” I said. By protecting the tip of the pole, the wood wouldn’t rot as fast.

“No,’ said Vera, “we use this to scare away mole rats who chew the roots of the apple trees. The mole rats don’t like the vibrations made by the empty cans in the wind, but it is not very effective. At times my husband Johan can easily lift up an apple tree. All the roots are gone.”

It immediately reminded me of a trip I had made to Uganda just a few weeks earlier, where bean farmers mentioned birds, rats and moles as their priority pests. So I asked Vera what other major pests she faced on her farm.

“Unlike other farms in this area, the seed we use has not been treated with chemicals. So, when the cabbage seedlings come up, we have a big problem with wood pigeons. We then call some of the local hunters who come and diagnose the damage. If they see it is pigeon damage, they will come and guard the crop in the early morning. When a flock of pigeons arrives they will shoot in the air to scar away the birds. And if the birds have the courage the return one more time, they will shoot a pigeon. After that, that flock will never come back again.”

The owners of the organic farm are good friends with all people in the community, and at times can rely on such needed services as the early morning hunters, who are sensitive enough to shoot just one bird.

Farmers across the world develop creative solutions to manage pests. Documenting these has been one of the passions of the Agro-Insight team.

While we train local partners to develop high quality videos with and for farmers, a large part of our efforts focuses on teaching our trainees to listen to farmers. An earlier video made by the Beninese NGO DEDRAS on soya tells a similar story of farmers engaging local hunters to protect their crop from rabbits.

The video made by DEDRAS can be seen on the Access Agriculture website and is called: Soya sowing density.

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Birds: farmers’ blessing or curse

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