Farmers count loses as locusts spread in Trinidad

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A lettuce field in Chatham which was destroyed by locusts.

(TRINIDAD GUARDIAN) 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.

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

“I have to pay an in­stal­ment 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 in­stal­ment. 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.

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 Guardian Me­dia 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.

Ali said then the in­fes­ta­tions were not un­usu­al and will be dealt with. How­ev­er, when Guardian Me­dia re­turned to the area in May, thou­sands of the 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.

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