Mopane worms under threat

24 April 2019 | Agriculture

The Ongandjera Traditional Authority says overharvesting and climate change has severely impacted mopane worm harvesting since 2012.

A local restaurant owner also said the worms being sold locally are now coming from Zambia and Angola.

The traditional authority is one of the few in Namibia that issues mopane worm harvesting permits after good summer rains.

Namibia has, however, been experiencing a severe change in rain patterns during past years, which likely has contributed to the mopane worm shortage.

Ongandjera Traditional Authority secretary John Kandombo told Ewi lyaNooli there was an overharvesting of mopane worms during the 2011 and 2012 harvesting seasons.

Kandombo said only a few people were issued with harvesting permits, but a large group descended on the Ongandjera and Uukwaluudhi forests to harvest.

“Climate change might have an effect, but the human element is the main contributor to this situation. If I can recall, during 2011 and 2012, after we issued a few mopane harvesting permits, people called their friends to join them in harvesting mopane warms. This was difficult for us to control, because the forests are not fenced off and anybody can just go in at any point,” said Kandombo.

“We noticed that people were not harvesting sustainably, because they were taking everything, either in trees or on the ground. This was the main problem, because when the worms grow a bit, and before the ground hardens for winter, they have to burrow into the earth for the next season, but the harvesters were harvesting all worms.”

Like most caterpillars, the mopane worm's life cycle starts when it hatches in the summer, after which it proceeds to eat foliage. As the larva grows bigger, it moults four times in its five larva stages, after which the mopane worm is then considered most desirable for harvesting.

Provided that the larva has not been harvested after its fourth moult, it burrows underground to pupate, the stage at which it undergoes a complete transformation to become an adult moth.

This stage happens during winter, after which it emerges at the beginning of summer (November or December).

The adult moths live only for three to four days, during which time they mate and lay eggs.

Uukwaluudhi king Josia Shikongo Taapopi also expressed his concerned about the illegal overharvesting of mopane worms.

Taapopi said illegal harvesters were even collecting young worms.

He said many people flock to the Uukwaluudhi forests and start harvesting, even though it's not the right time and they have no permits.

“They were not doing it unsustainably because they were even taking immature worms. Those illegal harvesters would camp and make fires in the veld without any permission from the traditional authority,” said Taapopi.

Mopane are a sought-after delicacy and harvesters are able to sell to markets countrywide.

Poppy Valeria Heita said have been selling mopane worms for many years at her restaurant situated at the Ongwediva open market.

She said many people like mopane worms and they sell very well.

She said they usually gets them from local harvesters, once the harvesting seasons start, but from 2010 they started experiencing a shortage before the supply stopped completely in 2012.

“In 2012 we stopped getting the worms from local harvesters. Due to the demand, we started asking people from Zambia and Angola to supply us, but they do not supply in large quantity. We are really feeling the shortage and it has also affected our businesses,” said Heita.

ILENI NANDJATO

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