What you need to know:
- Kenya has eradicated locusts two years after the ravenous insects were detected in the country.
- The pest damaged thousands of acres of plants, but that is now in the past.
It is more than a year since you took over the Kenyan office, how has been the experience?
Good, with both rewarding moments and challenges, which are normal in a busy and agriculture environment like Kenya. In particular, 2020 and 2021 have been challenging years for everyone. We were confronted by Covid-19 pandemic, two waves of desert locust invasion and the current drought situation affecting Asal counties. However, I want to applaud the leadership of the national and county governments for dedicated collaboration with FAO towards safeguarding vulnerable communities and their livelihoods.
What is the current situation of the desert locust invasion in the region?
I can confidently report that Kenya is free of desert locusts, thanks to the concerted efforts by the Kenyan government, communities, FAO and our resource partners. But I must add that the Horn of Africa is not yet be out of the woods.
There are immature swarms in Northern Somalia and parts of Ethiopia. FAO continues to support the countries in control activities. Nonetheless, the region needs to remain vigilant at all times since desert locust is a migratory pest heavily reliant on wind direction and speed.
How did Kenya manage to eliminate the locusts?
Management of desert locusts involved several stakeholders. The Kenyan government took lead in the campaign. Initially, the government organised desert locust control operation in six bases with FAO and other partners supporting them. These are Lodwar, Isiolo, Marsabit, Masinga, Wajir and Garissa basses. During the second wave, another base was established in Lamu.
To manage the menace, the government and FAO adopted a three stage approach, which was well-coordinated namely surveillance, actual control/treatment and livelihoods support.
Surveillance response to desert locust invasion depended on the quality of field data gathered and submitted to an established database. The three key components that were considered for successful survey, early warning and response included a network of regular surveillance scouts; rapid transmission of field data to decision makers and geo-referenced field data, which was fully managed and analysed within a Geographic Information System. Scouts used either a mobile-based app (eLocust3m) or satellite-based hand-held device (eLocust3g) for reporting.
Actual control (treatment) activities were informed by accurate field data submitted by scouts and processed at the desert locust information command centre, followed by either aerial or ground response as determined by the technical experts.
Finally, we did an impact assessment from which we are carrying out livelihood protection and recovery activities in the affected counties. This we are also doing in collaboration with national and county governments.
Should Kenyan farmers be worried of the return of the insects now that they are still breeding in Ethiopia and Somalia?
The entire region needs to remain alert. Even as FAO, we cannot afford to lower our guard at this point. However, this does not mean that our farmers cannot go about their normal farming business. They should be encouraged to continue as long as the climatic conditions are favourable.
Desert locust invasion in 2020 caught the world unawares. Are we prepared for any other tragedy?
It is true that the 2019/2020 invasion found countries in the region ill-prepared to deal with the swarms. Many of the invaded countries had not witnessed invasion of such a magnitude for years. Kenya, for instance, was witnessing the upsurge after 70 years and this might have caused panic. It is a fact that the waves witnessed in Kenya could have given problems even to the most-experienced countries.
I am glad that this is behind us now and we have learnt our lessons as well. We have established a fully fledged desert locust information processing command centre at the Ministry of Agriculture’s plant protection department for real-time surveillance updates.
In addition, there is already a critical mass of hands-on experienced teams besides training and graduating 20 young desert locust professionals. The country has also acquired sufficient control equipment and can be called upon to manage any invasion.
Regionally, FAO through various regional desert locust commissions, has supported countries in recession areas to undertake regular surveillance and control any time desert locusts begin to group together. This approach has ensured that countries are free of invasion most of time. This shows that we are better prepared now than we were in December 2019.
Thousands of farming households were affected by the locust invasion, what measures have been put in place to ensure they recover?
Through collaboration with the national and county governments, we have supported several agro-pastoralists with assorted seeds and fertilisers. Some of the farmers have established successful kitchen gardens from which they get vegetables for domestic consumption and sell surplus. Pastoralists, on the other hand, were supplied with range cubes and assorted livestock drugs to support them for three months to survive dry seasons.
The rains have become erratic, the threat of pests like locusts and fall armyworm still loom large and dry conditions are now common, what is your advice to farmers?
Factors challenging food production are directly or indirectly related to climate change. It is important that farmers relook and adjust their approaches in the ever-changing farming climate. One such approach is adoption of climate-smart agriculture. I am happy to state that both the national and county governments have embraced and are equally promoting such like approaches.