Chatham farmers want help as locusts destroy crops

Farmers from Chatham are crying out for help as swarms of locusts continue to feed off vast acreages of crops in the southwestern peninsula.

While the Ministry of Agriculture awaits funds to fix a wheel tractor used to spray the insects, farmers say they are losing thousands of dollars in crops.

Farmer Rishi Ramroop of Southern Main Road, Chatham said the swarm was so thick that within the space of a few days they gnawed away several acres of cassava, bodi, plantain and carailli."

"Since Friday they started coming into my land but nothing was as bad as this morning. I had to leave the area because they were eating down everything," Ramroop said. He added, "The cassava gone and now they eating the mango trees and the citrus." He said the flowers on his grapefruit and orange trees had dropped off because of the locust invasion.

Saying he was worried about his losses, Ramroop said he had an $80,000 loan with the Agricultural Development Bank.

"I have to pay an installment of $ 3,356. This morning I called the ADB and told them about the locusts but they said they will give me a grace period but from next month I will be paying interest on my installment. This is not fair. If the government had the proper equipment in place the swarms would not have been this bad," he added.

Ramroop said he called the St Patrick Locust Unit and they came on Friday and killed some locusts but when he called them on Tuesday they said they had other visits to make.

"It seems they cannot control the locusts because it is too heavy. This morning I went up to the road and it worse than all the other days. The Locust Unit saying they cannot come back to me even though I have so many losses," he added.

Another farmer said he was devastated that the locusts were eating away his crops of lettuce and patchoi.

"We are being told that we cannot get compensation because this is a natural disaster but this could have been prevented if they had the equipment to deal with the locusts," the farmer said.

A source who requested anonymity said since February the wheel tractor used to spray locusts went down. It needed replacement of a clutch that would cost $14,000. However, no funds were released and spraying of the nymphs could not be done. When the Guardian visited Bowen Trace in early April, the locusts were hoppers.

Director of the Regional Administration South Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Raffick Ali as well as supervisor Paul Phagoo, accompanied spray and surveillance teams through forested areas to monitor and track the movement of the locusts. At the time Ali said the infestations were not unusual and will be dealt with.

However, when the Guardian returned to the area in May, thousands of insects were concentrated at Chatham Beach Road, Cemetery Road, Kowlessar Trace, Ashford Trace and Carlyse Road. The insects had moved further inland.

Minister of Agriculture Clarence Rambharat referred questions to Permanent Secretary Lydia Jacobs who assured on Thursday that funds would be released to fix the wheel tractor. Jacobs said two additional vehicles were sent down last week to boost additional spraying.

However, a source said spray teams were overwhelmed with requests from farmers and residents.

- by Radhica De Silva


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