Soaring birds act as natural pest control for crops by feeding on agricultural pests such as rodents and insects. In these days of organic product market growth and increasing popularity, the ecological services provided by soaring birds as part of sustainable agriculture practices are jeopardised by the excessive usage of pesticides harmful and toxic to humans and nature.
A preliminary study in Kenya, where crop losses can range from a third to 100% during rodent outbreaks, found that when raptor nest boxes were installed, recapture rates for rodents dropped from as high as 45% to 0.3%
João Coelho - Flickr
Soaring birds feed on desert locust, a devastating agricultural pest
The shift towards a truly sustainable agriculture model needs to consider the biodiversity conservation dimension, of which birds are a major component, in conjunction with the needs of food security.
What do we do?
The MSB project aims to promote and support a truly sustainable agriculture model in the countries of the Rift Valley / Red Sea flyway.
MSB project partners are actively working in their respective countries for the establishment of strategic partnerships with the agriculture sector. If you are involved in the agriculture sector in any of the 11 countries or in the region and would like to learn more about how the project might be of interest to you please contact our partner in your respective country.
The Regional Flyway Facility (RFF) supports the work of MSB project partners by providing technical support, building capacity of sector stakeholders, raising awareness at a regional level and facilitating coordination and lesson learned exchange. For that purpose, RFF is working towards the development of guidance materials and tools to enhance the integration of migratory soaring bird conservation and ecological services into agriculture practices. If you would like to have more information on that please contact us.
Guidance documents on preventing the Risk to Migratory Birds from Poisoning by Agricultural Chemicals, and minimizing the impacts agricultural expansion and intensification on Migratory Soaring Birds within the Rift Valley/Red Sea Flyway will soon be available for download.
Agriculture in the Rift Valley / Red Sea Flyway
Agriculture is central to the social, political and economic life of many countries along the Rift Valley / Red Sea flyway. Agriculture, natural resource use and other land-based activities are crucial sources of income and employment for over 70% of the population in developing countries. In most of these countries, agriculture accounts for 30 to 50% of the gross national product (GNP). The agriculture sector is an important sector of the economy in this region, especially for poorer countries that have agrarian-based economies. For instance, agriculture constitutes 20.4% of Syria’s GDP, 47% of Ethiopia’s and 39% of Sudan’s. In addition, up to 60%-70% of the Eritrean population and 29% of Egypt’s labour force are employed by the agriculture sector.
Neil Palmer (CIAT) - Flickr
Agriculture is a crucial source of income and employment in developing countries
Population increase, climate change, low productivity, and lack of water resources are driving agricultural intensification in the region. Over the next decade, Africa and the Middle East are predicted to have the world’s strongest growth in food demand and agricultural trade, and in nearly all countries of the flyway, agricultural land area will increase dramatically.
Unfortunately, agricultural intensification in the region is coupled with an increasing usage of harmful pesticides and other chemicals. Available data in the flyway countries show that toxic pesticides are still widely manufactured and used, though this trend is slightly decreasing. Furthermore, agricultural intensification is depleting the water resources of many countries along the flyway, with some, such as Jordan, having some of the poorest water availability in the world.
Impacts on birds
Agricultural intensification has proven to be one of the key threats driving bird population decline worldwide. There are two different levels of impacts on migratory soaring birds: landscape impacts and farming practices impacts.
Landscape impacts include habitat conversion/loss, cited as a threat to nearly 80% of all threatened and near-threatened bird species globally and to 56% of all Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in Africa.
Sam Beebe, Ecotrust, CC By 3.0
Habitat conversion / loss associated to agricultural intensification is one of the major threats to soaring birds
Additionally, untreated agriculture effluents may poison some species of soaring birds along the flyway, while over-exploitation and diversion of water from natural wetlands in our region is a constant threat for these wetlands of international importance for birds.
Farming practices impacts consist mainly of poisoning by pesticides (insecticides, rodenticides, avicides) and poisoning from infected livestock. Extensive and intensive use of pesticides occurs throughout the region, and mortality from pesticide poisoning, through ingestion of prey or drinking contaminated water, may represent a significant threat to migratory birds along the flyway. The impact of pesticides is probably greatest for storks, pelicans, cranes, harriers and falcons, which frequently feed during stopovers. DDT, a pesticide that caused eggshell thinning in many species, caused devastating declines and local extinctions in many MSB species. Though it has been banned for decades in many countries, DDT can still be found in some countries in the Rift Valley/Red Sea flyway such as Ethiopia and Sudan where several hundred tons are used every year. Drugs administered to livestock can kill migratory soaring birds, especially vultures, directly through organ damage. The most infamous case is Diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug used to treat inflammation and fever that causes acute renal failure in vultures.