Northern Kenya counties are staring at a fresh wave of invasion by desert locusts, with swarms expected to migrate from neighbouring Somalia and Ethiopia in a week’s time.
Fledging of hoppers into immature adults in northeast Somalia is underway with ongoing aerial and ground operations against late instar hopper bands expected to reduce the number and size of immature swarms that will form in the coming weeks.
There are, however, limited aerial control operations against small immature swarms in southern Ethiopia that persist in the Rift Valley of Southern SNNP near the Kenyan border.
The Food Agriculture Organisation (Fao) projects that the swarms in Somalia could, due to depleting vegetation and prevailing winds, migrate southwards through central Somalia and eastern Ethiopia to southeast Ethiopia, northeast Kenya and southern Somalia in a week’s time.
On arrival in northeast Kenya, the swarms are likely to spread to the west towards Wajir, Marsabit, Samburu and Turkana counties, threatening livelihoods of millions of Kenyans reeling from the effects of drought and the Covid-19 pandemic.
“With the vegetation drying out and the prevailing winds, the swarms are likely to migrate from December 24,” Fao said in a recent forecast.
While the UN agency insists that the threat will last until early January as the swarms will not be able to mature and start laying eggs due to dry conditions, the light showers being experienced in the region could hasten the maturity of the voracious pests, resulting in massive breeding.
Rain offers favourable breeding conditions for desert locusts which can fly up to 150 kilometres in a day with a square kilometre of the swarms consuming as much food in a day as 35,000 people.
“The conditions might not be favourable due to the dry conditions. It will take the swarms one month to mature and start laying eggs,” the agency said, adding that the swarms may remain immature until the March-April-May rains which will allow them to rapidly complete their maturation and start laying eggs.
Somalia and Ethiopia are currently the main hotspots in the Horn of Africa, with limited breeding said to be underway along the northern border.
The Kenyan government has been asked to set aside adequate resources to control the swarms before April and sustained operations in Somalia and Ethiopia to reduce swarm formation in the Horn of Africa.
“Field teams in Kenya are expected to have the necessary resources, experience and time to control the swarms and bring the current upsurge to an end,” Fao said.
Pastoralists have expressed fears the invasion could completely devour the remaining pasture, threatening the existence of their livestock and igniting resource-based conflicts.
The previous invasion was Kenya’s worst in history and affected more than 30 counties.
“The government should prepare well before the swarms start streaming into our region. We were adversely affected during the previous invasion and we fear the expected one could impoverish us,” said Mr John Letoye, a herder from Ngaremara in Isiolo County.