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Rice farmers reclaim thousands in lost incomes through dancing, talking scarecrow

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A solar-powered moving scarecrow that detects bird movements is helping rice farmers reclaim thousands in previously lost incomes.

African farmers are estimated to lose as much as 50 per cent of their incomes to birds destroying their crops. Birds disproportionately affect rice farmers damaging their crops from planting to maturity.

Developed by Peter Mithamo, an Electronics and Computer Engineer at Mount Kenya University, the solar-powered scarecrow has motion sensors placed in its head that detect animal and bird movements on the farm before vibrating, waving its wooden arms, and playing prerecorded sounds to scare them away.

For rice farmers, the options available to scare birds away are often manual labour and the use of stationary scarecrows. These options are often inefficient, unsustainable, and at times expensive.

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The last resort is using fenthion– a pesticide that can be “toxic to humans and other organisms that are not its direct target.”

“I bought one at the start of the year and it completely kept away the flocks of Quelea birds that attacked neighboring farms during the February harvest,” said Maxwell Murangiri, a rice farmer in Mwea.

The scarecrow costs a reasonable Sh15,000 as it is made from locally sourced material. 

Its 12-volt solar or battery-powered motor enables it to run on minimal power. The motor vibrates and moves its wooden ‘limbs’ while also powering its amplifier which can be preset with any noises one wants it to make such as a lion roar.

Peter’s first moving and talking scarecrow was born out of necessity because of the many bandit and wild animal attacks, especially at night, back home in Laikipia.

“I had been marketing it as a security alarm for livestock but received more inquiries from crop farmers looking to use it against birds and animals such as monkeys that often invade their farms,” he explained.

Since he began showcasing his scarecrow at agriculture events across the country, he has sold four of them. Three to rice farmers in Mwea and another to a farmer in Embu looking to keep away muguka thieves from his farm.

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“I am currently working on a custom prototype for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) which is looking to trial it amongst its many options for preventing human-wildlife conflict. I have received several orders from farmers which I am fulfilling at a slower pace than I’d like. I am however looking for funding to upscale production,” he pointed out.

He is also looking to equip it with smoke and moisture level detectors.

Peter Mithamo: 0720- 539404

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