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Preparedness is key in locust management

Tempeson Lekerde of Angata Nanyekie village.

Early last year, a swarm of locusts made its way from Yemen, through Somalia and Ethiopia into East Africa. Among the most affected counties of Kenya by the invasion was Northern Kenya. Experts have warned that the invasions may keep recurring as they are partly triggered by the effects of climate change.

Interventions in Counties

Desert locusts multiply rapidly; the smallest swarm has around 40 million locusts and can fly as much as 150km a day. To manage their population and spread, county governments embarked on aerial spraying of pesticides. “When

we received information from FAO that our county would experience an invasion, we were already carrying out our regular scanning for any environmental incidents, and we had to act fast before the ravaging insects hit our farms,” says Daniel Leisagor, the Chief of Special Programs in Samburu County. During the scanning process, they had already projected that swarms would appear in the County in weeks and in preparedness, they had already told the residents to make a report to Africa’s Locust Control Centre in Ethiopia, should they spot a swarm. The first swarm to be spotted had settled on the hill of Leinkala. The team at the County conducted some consultation on how to manage the invasion and they settled on mass spraying to reduce the population of the pest.

Leisagor elaborates on the government’s strategy in taking measures to protect the residents, livestock, and the environment. “We ensured that we use chemicals approved by government agencies and a control team was put together. Part of the control team’s role is to communicate the location where the locusts are spotted, the size of the swarm, the vegetation and topography of the area, whether there is a population; settlement; conservation or open community land.

‘’Where there is a settlement, the residents were informed and were asked not to graze on the sprayed fields for 21 days and where there is a water body or cropland, spraying was not done until the swarm moved to a clear space,” he explains. To ensure an impact assessment is done, a health team was deployed immediately after spraying was done to ascertain whether there has been an effect on people, animals, or the environment. The health team as Leisagor explains was comprised of an environmentalist, public health officer and clinical officer. “Apart from controlling access to areas that were sprayed, the teams made sure the containers, drones, gloves and drums used in preparing and dispensing the pesticides have been collected and taken back to Nairobi for proper disposal.”

Effects on bees, the people, and livestock

While the county government had taken all these measures to ensure minimal effects on the health of the people, the livestock and the environment, residents reportedly suffered challenges especially to do with eyesight and gut problems such as diarrhoea; cattle aborting calves and bees fleeing their hives and others dying. Lolmoti Ltakarian a beekeeper in Angata Nanyekie village, Samburu North, is one of the pastoralists affected by the spraying. “I have five beehives and after the aerial spraying following locust invasion, the bees fled and some died,” says Lolmoti showing one of his empty hives. On the day of the interview, only one hive had bees, the other looked forlorn. The beekeeping enterprise was a major source of income for Mr Lolmoti as from one beehive he could harvest honey worth Ksh4,000, which means every season, he gained Ksh20,000

from selling honey. The father of seven, who also keeps cows and goats complained that after spraying his cattle that were expectant aborted their calves, a condition he attributed to feeding the livestock with fodder that already harboured the toxic chemical.

While human health was considered during the spraying period, some villagers of Angata Nanyekie experienced eyesight problems and digestive tract issues as explained by Fredrick Lenkebe, a community health worker at Angata Nanyekie Dispensary, a USAID funded facility in the village that serves about 20 patients daily. “The days following the spraying exercise, we experienced a rise in cases of patients visiting the dispensary with diarrhoea and complaints of eyesight problems,” says Lenkebe.

One of the patients who attended the facility with eyesight challenges is Tempeson Lekerde, a woman elder in the village. Tempeson was out in the field when a drone flew over dispensing the pesticide that she suspects was blown by the wind into her eyes. “That evening I struggled to see and by the following day, I had a blurred eyesight, which has been the case since,” she says. Tempeson’s life revolved around the farm, collecting firewood, and going

to fetch water, but since the incident, she sits outside her manyatta, in the company of her grandchildren and cannot do much for herself. The County has a program aimed at compensating those economically affected by locust invasion and the pesticide spray.

According to Claire Nasike, a scientist at Green Peace Africa, an organization that champions food safety and sovereignty, all pesticides have an active ingredient that is effective in killing the target pests. For example, in Nakuru County, as attested by a study conducted by Green Peace Africa, the pesticide used to manage locusts has an active ingredient, delta methrine also known as decamethrin which has been proven to have adverse effects on honeybees, aquatic organisms and is also a neurotoxin on human beings.

Long term effects of locust invasion

If not managed in time, desert locusts can have long-term devastating effects on human life as they present a threat to food security. As Mr Leisagor observes, families could suffer long periods of hunger resulting from crop destruction by locusts, leading to malnutrition among children especially in Samburu community which largely depends on livestock and in some families bees for survival. “When animals’ productivity goes down due to lack of fodder, the males do not serve females duly and that means little milk for expectant mothers and children, which is a major cause of malnutrition among families in Samburu,” he says. In extreme cases, children become stunted, which is an irreversible condition, spiralling down to slow learning in school and eventually poor education which forms a never-ending cycle of poverty from generation to generation.” “As such, effects of locust invasion should not be underestimated. Short term effects are clearly visible but the long-term effects are even worse, hence the need to adopt a quick intervention to mitigate them.” While the intervention adopted has had its effects on the people, the livestock and the environment, there are benefits to it.

But are there alternative approaches to be adopted in case of future invasion?

Alternative approaches of locust management

Ms Nasike advocates for use of biopesticides to control the ravaging pests, which she explains has fewer effects on the people and the environment. While it might take longer to effectively manage the locusts, there will be fewer effects on other organisms in the environment.

Other actors argue that preparedness is key in effectively and safely managing the locusts. For example, once forecasted, those concerned can spray biopesticides on the onset before the eggs hatch, and this will stop their multiplication and spread.

Initiatives such as The Knowledge Hub for Organic Agriculture in Eastern Africa (KHEA) which is part of the Knowledge Centre for Organic Agriculture in Africa (KCOA) project have been supporting the education of farmers and policymakers on safe and effective ways of managing the destructive pests such as the desert locust.

The KCOA is a collaborative country-led partnership funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

According to Mr Francis Nsanga – KHEA Project Manager, the KCOA aims to scale up the adoption of agroecological farming practices through a network of five Knowledge Hubs in Eastern, Western, Northern, Central and Southern Africa. The KHEA is being hosted and coordinated by the Nairobi-based Biovision Africa Trust and co-hosted by Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) Uganda. Apart from Uganda and Kenya, activities are carried out in Rwanda and Tanzania in collaboration with Rwanda Organic Agriculture Movement (ROAM) and Tanzania Organic Agriculture Movement (TOAM)

Some organisations also saw an opportunity in the locust invasion and began mobilizing farmers to collect them and sell them for processing into biofertilizers and animal feeds. Mr Leisagor however warns that once spraying has been done, it is dangerous to collect the insects for use in farms as feeds or even fertilizers as some insects fly away to other regions and farmers may be wrong to think that they do not have the chemical residues on them. Processing such insects for feed by poultry would pose a danger to the health of the poultry and people consuming the poultry. This shows the need for preparedness and informed decision making when it comes to locust management, as knee jerk interventions can end up causing unforeseen challenges, not only in the short term but also long term.

Caroline Mwendwa is the Project Officer of The Organic Farmer (TOF) Magazine, at Biovision Africa Trust.

Email: [email protected] 

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