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Sap-sucking insects to help end cactus headache in Laikipia County

Health & Science

NYAHURURU: Hope beckons for pastoralists in Laikipia County after a leading wildlife conservancy announced it would release sap-sucking insects to help eradicate a species of cactus blamed for livestock deaths.

Ol Jogi Conservancy said they have partnered with specialists from Centre for Agricultural Biosciences International (CABI) to introduce cochineal.

"Cochineal feeds solely on Opuntia stricta, a species of Cactus plant which threatens livelihoods because it decimates pasture land through colonising the land," said Elodie Sampere of Ol Jogi Conservancy.

Sampere said the insects were imported from South Africa and were quarantined at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, through approval from the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services and funding from Ol Jogi Ranch and CABI.

Sampere said additional trials have confirmed that the insects, which will be released on Friday next week at Twala Women Cultural Manyatta in Il Polei, do not pose any threat to native or introduced crops in Kenya.

The insects will be introduced in Laikipia North, especially Makurian, Kiwanja Ndege and Doldol. The plant has been blamed for a high number of livestock deaths, since the animals feed on the plant's thorny fruits which destroy their digestive system.

"Pastoralists struggle with frequent drought and as if this is not enough, a non-native cactus has invaded the grazing lands and livestock often have no choice but to feed on them," said Sampere.

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