ARUSHA, Tanzania, Feb. 23 (Xinhua) -- Quelea birds have destroyed more than 600 hectares of paddy in Tanzania's northern region of Kilimanjaro, authorities confirmed Thursday.
Rosemary Sitaki, Same District Commissioner, confirmed the invasion, saying: "We are aware of the new challenge; and we've consulted the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Fisheries for the provision of expertise and pesticides to kill the destructive birds in the area."
Sitaki said that farmers in Ndung'u Irrigation Scheme located on the slopes of Pare mountain ranges are highly affected by the invasive bird species in the district.
She said that the invasive birds threaten food security in the area located some kilometers from Africa's highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro.
The official said that Ndung'u Irrigation Scheme has a total of 680 hectares, with more than 2,500 small-holder farmers who are involving in paddy farming.
"The affected area is one of the important areas for producing quality rice in Kilimanjaro and the country at large," the official said, disclosing that the scheme offers employment to many people in the area.
Halima Shabaan, one of the affected paddy growers in the area, who said that in just three weeks, the destructive birds have destroyed almost all farms in the irrigation scheme, posing a serious food security concerns.
"We are forced to guard the farms throughout the day...we are not sure if we are going to harvest enough food since the birds have eaten all the rice," Halima said.
Kapongo Juma, chairman of Ndung'u Irrigation Scheme, described the birds' invasion as a "deadly" challenge taking into account that rice is farming is a live line for many farmers in the area.
He said that farmers have been deploying a number of workers to rescue their farms, "but I think they are becoming overwhelmed with the challenge as these birds are in big numbers."
Experts have said that although they prefer the seeds of wild grasses to those of cultivated crops, their huge numbers make them a constant threat to fields of sorghum, wheat, barley, millet, and rice.
The average quelea bird eats around 10 grams of grain per day - roughly half its body weight - so a flock of 2 million can devour as much as 20 tons of grain in a single day.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates the agricultural losses attributable to the quelea in excess of 50 million U.S. dollars annually.