Swarms of locusts that have invaded the country will continue ravaging vegetation because the Government is unable to acquire a key chemical used to kill them.
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya yesterday told a Senate committee the Government is at the mercy of foreign business interests that are yet to supply Fenitrothion, a powerful pesticide only available in Japan and Australia.
Munya said the Government has been forced to use less effective pesticides that only injure the locusts before they die after a day or two.
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“One of the challenges we have is shortage of chemicals, especially Fenitrothion. It is not available in Kenya and getting it here has been a nightmare because of the stringent processes, especially when you have the private sector which keeps lying that it will be available,” said the CS told the Senate Agriculture Committee.
He revealed that efforts to directly procure the chemical, through government to government initiative, have hit a brick wall after Japan said it cannot interfere with private sector issues.
“We have even tried government to government procurement, but Japan said private sector issues should not be handled by government,” Munya said.
The locusts continue to multiply even as it emerged that the Sh230 million that had been set aside to deal with the problem has been depleted.
The money has been used to among other interventions, procure pesticides.
“Treasury gave us Sh230 million which is now depleted, but we have partners that have come in to support us. Their processes are, however slow,” he told the team led by Embu Senator Njeru Ndwiga.
To spray a swarm costs Sh3 million, according to Munya.
A litre of pesticide costs Sh10,000 and it requires 300 litres to spray a swarm of 40 million locusts, Munya told the committee.
Other challenges facing the fight include limited technical capacity among extension officers and limited funds for the upkeep of National Youth Service personnel who have been helping to fight the pests.
Munya admitted the Government response to the invasion was slow. “The information over the impending attack by locusts arrived much earlier, but there was slowness in action,” he said.
The CS, however, assured Kenyans a cocktail of pesticides being used have put the situation under control as the Government awaits procurement of Fenitrothion.
He also assured members the chemicals used are safe. Pasture sprayed by the chemicals is safe for animals after a few days, he said.
Munya said the Government will, from next week, start a campaign to sensitise the public about the locusts menace.
A plan is also in motion to deploy experts to assess damage to crops and pasture.
He, however, clarified that the intervention will take the form of ‘restoring livelihoods’ and not direct compensation.
“We want to do a campaign to sensitive the public on the locust issue. Experts will be deployed to help us assess the damage so far so that we can help the affected communities,” he said.
The locusts have invaded over 20 counties, including Isiolo, Meru, Embu, Kitui, Samburu, Nyeri, and Kisumu.
A swarm of locusts covering just one square kilometre can destroy food crops capable of feeding 35,000 people for a year, according to experts.
Meanwhile, Munya told the ongoing National Agriculture Summit in Nairobi that Government’s mitigation efforts have been concentrated in Kitui, Isiolo, Samburu, Garissa and Marsabit counties, he said, form key hatching regions.
Already, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned breeding of locusts presents a serious threat in the fight against the insects.
“Urgent efforts must be made to stop them from increasing to protect livelihoods of farmers and livestock holders,” Senior Locust Forecasting Officer at FAO Keith Cressman warned in January.
Mr Munya said the Government has conducted aerial spraying in regions with minimal vegetation, such as Marsabit and Turkana.
He however admitted the involved agencies are encountering challenges, which have made it hard to halt invasion within an ideal time frame.
“The biggest problem we are confronting right now is the nymphs and hoppers that have hatched from the mature locusts. That is the danger we face but we are working to contain it,” Munya said. [Additional reporting by Gloria Aradi]