Farmers from Kyawagonya parish in Lwengo district have devised counter strategies to scare away destructive crested crane birds and hippopotami that ravage plantations of maize, beans and groundnuts.
The farmers the birds and animals as a threat to food insecurity that has been worsened by the unpredictable rains and the armyworms, according to the Lwempala village LC1 chairperson, Tobius Kayemba.
“The cranes emerge from the swamps and raid our plantations. They eat the maize, groundnuts, beand and Irish potato seeds. We are worried about the looming food insecurity,” he said.
Last year, farmers killed close to 200 crested cranes using poison, a move that threatens their extinction, according to Gilbert Tayebwa, the International Crane Foundation project officer for the south central region.
Recently,16 grey-crowned cranes were killed by the locals, prompting the intervention of the International Crane Foundation to safeguard the birds from perishing in Lwengo communities.
Harvest Money learnt that one person was last year killed by a hippopotamus at Lwempama village.
The foundation last week started empowering farmers and the communities to use reflector discs, video tapes and plastic bottles, among other devices, to scare away the cranes and hippos.
“The discs put on strings around the gardens make a sharp sound that scares away the crested cranes and other animals. These strategies are effective; its better option than poisoning the birds,” farmers said.
Adah Nakiwala, a resident, said she lost an entire maize plantation after the cranes destroyed the crops.
“The cranes are wise, they first dance and scratch the soils removing the seedlings from the soils, they also feed on the leaves of the germinating seeds,” she said.
Peace Mwesigwa, a farmer, said the challenge is that discs are scarce.
“We have combed all video libraries in Masaka city and the neighbouring urban areas searching for the reflector discs and old video tapes, but they are running out,” he said.
Tayebwa said the carcasses of poisoned cranes also pose a danger to human health and other animals, both wild and domestic.
He noted that the cranes that are poisoned in the crop plantation fly away and die around their water sources as they try to counter the poison.
“Unfortunately, the carcasses contaminate the water sources on which the communities depend. Dogs and animals eat the dead cranes, putting their lives in danger,” he said.
As a mitigation measure, Tayebwa said the project has empowered 39 crane custodians, local communities, and volunteers to safeguard the cranes.
The farmers were also educated on the dangers of misusing agro-chemicals purchased locally to destroy the cranes.
In conjunction with Lwengo district natural resources department among other stakeholders, the community awareness campaigns have been intensified on cranes and wetland conservation.
The custodians also monitor and ensure that the breeding grounds for cranes are protected.
Under the project, traditional healers are being sensitised to stop taking cranes’ eggs they use for rituals.
Another affected area in Lwengo where crested cranes have been endangered is Keikorongo.
Tayebwa said they plan to provide alternative sources of livelihoods for the communities in the future.
The Kyandazibe LC1 secretary, Mutwaibu Mugumya, said protection of the crested crane in Lwengo is crucial since they attract local and foreign tourists.
“We have many tourists who branch to this place to watch the grey crowned crested crane, the problem is that they do not pay us anything,” he said.
He said the area has over 1,000 crested cranes that settle in the wetlands. He said the cranes relocate upland when the water
levels in the wetlands rise.