The government is racing against time to contain the locust menace, which the UN describes as Kenya's worst in 70 years.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says the locust population is expected to grow until June due to expected rains, warning it poses a serious threat to food security and livelihoods in the region if not contained.
The government, working with the Desert Locust Control Organisation for Eastern Africa, has deployed five aircraft to spray the insects, and four for surveillance.
The latest update from FAO indicates that locust swarms are still getting into the country on a near-daily basis, mostly from Somalia and also from Ethiopia, into Mandera, Wajir and Marsabit counties. The swarms have reached Isiolo, Meru and Laikipia counties.
FAO confirmed that yesterday, a swarm reached Rift Valley near Kapedo on the border of Baringo and Turkana counties. Immature swarms were also spotted in Mwingi, Kitui County. Further movements are expected, especially in Turkana and Marsabit counties.
The locusts are likely to move to Uganda, South Sudan and southwest Ethiopia.
Countries affected and at risk have been asked to intensify efforts to fight them, to ensure the worst case scenario, which is widespread famine, does not occur in a region that is already grappling with food shortage due to previous droughts and flooding.
“We must act immediately and at scale to combat and contain this invasion. As the rains start in March, there will be a new wave of locust breeding. Now is therefore the best time to control the swarms and safeguard people’s livelihoods and food security, and avert further worsening of the food crisis,” said David Phiri, FAO Sub-regional Coordinator for Eastern Africa.
The United Nations is also approaching the issue as an emergency to ensure that the invasion does not become an endemic.
“Within FAO, we are employing what we call the L3. The L3 within is the highest level of emergency. Once it is deployed, it allows us to move as fast as we can and it has been deployed already,” said Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant Director and Regional Representative for Africa.
He spoke at a press briefing held by the Food Security and Nutrition Working Group. Various international agencies are involved in the efforts, with calls for more to come onboard.
“We are advocating for $70 million for the whole region. It is not a lot of money compared to the food insecurity they would cause, which would run into billions of dollars,” he said.
“Control operations are in progress in the northeast (Puntland) while maturing swarms continued to move southwards in central and southern areas. Some swarms were seen laying eggs in the south adjacent to northeast Kenya. Survey and control operations are limited by insecurity,” read a statement by FAO.
Climate change is one of the major reasons the locusts were able to spread so rapidly, according to Guleid Artan, Director of IGAD’s Climate Predictions and Applications Center.
The Desert Locust outbreak, he said, had been worsened by the unusually heavy rains experienced in the region.
“2019 brought us unusual cyclonic activity. Eight cyclones, the highest number in a single year since 1976 formed over the northern Indian Ocean,” he said.
There have been claims that Kenya was slow to act on warnings received earlier on the impending invasion.
But Stephen Njoka, director of the DLCO-EA, said efforts to contain the locusts were “going very well”.
“The locusts are in billions now. But for those that have come in, we have contained more than 80 per cent of them,” said Dr Njoka.