Muscat: Farmers are bracing for one of the worst years when it comes to their harvests as large swarms of locusts have been devastating their crops and the damage is likely to run into millions of rials.
Oman's farming industry revenues are worth OMR45 million a year, according to the official statistics but farmers say their earnings for 2014 will be severely hit as swarms of locusts are nibbling away at their produce and in some areas even blocking the irrigation channels.
"Locusts are eating away almost everything in my farm. I had a total of about three tonnes of vegetables and fruits last year but this time around, I will have almost nothing," Faraj Al Salmi, a farmer at Ibri told the Times of Oman.
Other farmers say that the aflaj system (water channels) used for farm irrigation has been totally blocked by dead locusts.
"The government is helping out by spraying chemicals from the air but dead locusts fall in our aflaj and clog up the channel and the pumps. It is becoming very expensive to hire vehicles to bring water into our farms on a daily basis," Salim Al Lamki in Rustaq said.
The ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is recording the location of locust nests and egg laying pattern. Officials are also testing eggs in the laboratory to help assess the size of the likely locust problem in the summer and the following fall. There had been extensive egg-laying in Dhahirah, Sharqiyah and interior regions, according to officials of the ministry.
The ministry will continue to spray environment-friendly pesticides throughout the summer to control the spread of locusts in wadis, farms and even mountains. Farmers are concerned that the pesticides will contaminate the soil and poison their crops but the ministry assured them that the chemical spray is organic.
Help to farmers
"Pesticides used in all areas of Oman are safe and will not harm vegetation, crops or animals. The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has been working with the United Nations' agencies and regional countries to control the problem. We are giving farmers all the help they need," a statement issued by the ministry said.
The Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO) is using helicopters to locate the areas swarmed with locusts and spray the pesticides from the air. Since May, more breeding grounds have been discovered and efforts are on to contain the problem and prevent it from spreading.
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