Locust invasion could get worse if control efforts not stepped up

What you need to know:

  • The swarms have invaded Machakos, Embu, Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit, Isiolo, Samburu, Meru, Turkana, Tana-River, Baringo and Laikipia counties.
  • This is likely to compound the already worse situation, which has seen crops, pasture and part of forest cover destroyed on an unprecedented scale.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that the locust invasion could get worse if the aerial and ground control operations are not upscaled.

In its latest locust update Wednesday, FAO said immature swarms continue to arrive in the northeast and move throughout northern and central areas, having invaded 13 counties to date.

The swarms have invaded Machakos, Embu, Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit, Isiolo, Samburu, Meru, Turkana, Tana River, Baringo and Laikipia counties.

“Some swarms have started to lay eggs that will hatch in early February and new swarms could start to form by early April in northern counties. Although a few swarms have reached the Rift Valley, they are likely to remain in northern areas,” the organisation stated.

This is likely to compound the already worse situation, which has seen crops, pasture and part of forest cover destroyed on an unprecedented scale.

Already, the National Treasury has termed the invasion as a systemic risk that might prevent the country from attaining its medium-term growth target of seven per cent. “Locust invasion witnessed in the country in late 2019 and early 2020 poses a great risk to agricultural production and food security,” Treasury said in its recently released Budget Policy Statement.

Slow response

FAO warns that if infestations are not detected and controlled, devastating plagues that often take several years and hundreds of millions of shillings to bring under control can develop with severe consequences on food security and livelihoods. 

“The current desert locust situation remains extremely alarming and represents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa. This will be further exacerbated by new breeding that has commenced, which will cause more locust infestations,” the organisation warned.

Swarms that are about 200km away in Kenya from the Uganda and South Sudan borders could appear at any time in the coming days in the extreme southeast of South Sudan and, to a lesser extent, in northeast Uganda.

On Monday, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya acknowledged the government delayed in taking immediate action in the early stages but defended efforts put in place to contain the locusts so far.

“Given the time the warning was given, planning and taking care of the situation in good time did not happen. There was a lapse in terms of taking action,” said Mr Munya.

Meanwhile, in Samburu County, two new swarms of desert locusts have spread to Samburu National Reserve.

Samburu Special Programs officer Daniel Leisagor said two other invasions were reported at Ngorishe area about four kilometres from Baragoi town.

Mr Leisagor said five swarms at Reteti, Remot, Lengusaka, Nakwamoru and Shaba had been decimated through ongoing aerial spraying.

In Tana River, Governor Dhadho Godhana appealed to the national government to help contain a locust invasion.

“We are appealing to the Agriculture CS and other partners involved in pest fumigation to come to our rescue so we can fight this together,” he said.

Since their invasion, the locusts have invaded farms in Bura, which the governor said offered good pasture, especially after the rains.

Speaking to the Nation, County Special Programs Director Abdulahi Hanti said the locusts have since left banana plantations leafless and are competing with livestock for grass.

“If they land on a vegetation cover, they leave it dry, only the ground or stems will be seen,” he said.

Reported by Kennedy Kimanthi, Waweru Wairimu, Siago Cece and Stephen Oduor​

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