Desert locusts return to ravage 20 counties

A resident of Tenges in Baringo Central tackles locusts last year. At least 20 counties have been invaded by the desert locusts. [File, Standard]

Kenya is under pressure to avert a full-scale desert locusts invasion, which are entering the country from Somalia.

But the Ministry of Agriculture and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) are confident Kenya is adequately prepared to stave off any threats on the country’s food supplies.

Kenya is in the midst of the second wave of locust invasion, which started in November. 

Agriculture CS Peter Munya said the swarms are expected to increase, as the country moves towards a period of heavy rainfall, expected from late March.

Mr Munya said the long rains were likely to be a harbinger of full-scale devastation by the locusts, which feed on pasture and other vegetation.

“We, therefore, need to ensure the swarms are controlled before the long rains, since rains create a conducive environment for the desert locust to thrive,” the CS said during a meeting with agriculture stakeholders from some 20 counties that have been invaded by the desert locusts.

He said at least 203 swarms had settled in the country, out of which about 121 had been controlled.

More swarms are expected to invade and settle in Kenya in this and next month, based on projections from FAO.

The meeting was also attended by top FAO officials in the county, including Kenya Country Representative Carla Mucavi, who said since February 7, at least 180 swarms of the desert locusts had settled in the country, 157 of which have been sprayed with insecticide.

FAO also pointed out an anomaly in the migration patterns of the desert locust swarms, which are now ravaging parts of the Coast, specifically Lamu, Tana River, Kwale and Kilifi counties.

“The pattern was altered by Cyclone Gati, which deflected the mature swarms to the coastal counties. This is a very uncommon phenomenon,” said Mucavi.

The Ministry of Agriculture now says the swarms have now infested 20 counties, including the coastal ones. Some of the affected counties, such as Nyandarua, are key agricultural zones.

Kenya has a Sh3.2 billion plan to manage the pests, which includes training more National Youth Service officers, operationalising more surveillance and spray aircraft and vehicle-mounted sprayers, as well as replenishing the stocks of insecticides.

Even as it celebrated successes in controlling their spread, Munya said the security situation in Mandera hindered efforts to contain the swarms. “The perception of insecurity has really hampered aerial control. In fact, ground control is impossible in some of those areas. This has allowed some swarms to make it all the way to Isiolo and now Nyandarua, Tharaka Nithi and Nakuru,” said Munya.

Somalia last week announced a state of emergency over a new generation of desert locust swarms that invaded the southern regions of the country.

But besides insecurity, Munya said inability to detect locusts within conservation areas and protected zones such as forests had also handicapped efforts to fight them.

“Those vast conservation areas are where breeding took place without us noticing. A lot of the invasion that has taken place in Meru and Laikipia are swarms of locusts migrating from frontier counties and moving to parks then invading farms,” Munya said.

The ministry is proposing recruitment and training of Kenya Wildlife Service rangers to be part of the surveillance and control team, and especially in gazetted zones and protected areas where the rangers have a better knowledge of the terrain.  

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