By HENRY OWINO
The desert locusts that were reported in Kenya in December 2019 , have defied control measures that have been placed by Eastern and Horn of Africa governments, the United Nation agencies and regional bodies .The insects continue to move to other countries, destroying crops and vegetation.
This is the worst desert locust situation in 70 years in Kenya and 25 years for most of the affected countries. According to experts, the insects are likely to move to Uganda, South Sudan and South West Ethiopia.
The current outbreak started in the Arabian Peninsula in May and October of 2018. The rains caused massive breeding over three cycles that went unnoticed.
Thereafter, numerous swarms began to move south in January to March last year. The swarms then drifted with the winds to Iran, and ended up on the border between Pakistan and India in June.
They then migrated to Yemen where political instability and war prevented surveillance and control. Subsequently they crossed the Gulf of Aden into Ethiopia and Somalia in October and November last year respectively.
On December 28, 2019 several large immature swarms appeared in Northeastern near the Somali border of Mandera and Elwak. They have since spread into 20 counties in Northern Eastern, North and Eastern Kenya.
Locust breeding and movements are taking place also in Djibouti, Eritrea and Sudan.
According to the experts, large and numerous swarms currently continue to destroy crops and pastures across parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya.
FAO says that desert locust had been reported globally since the outbreaks of 1926 – 1934, 1940 – 1948, 1949 – 1963, 1967 – 1969 and 1986 – 1989.
Dr Stephen Njoka ,the Director General of Desert Locust Control Organization (DLCO) said the insects that originated from Yemen into Ethiopia in October, Somalia and now in northern Kenya is now moving towards Baringo and Turkana in South Western Kenya.
“They are further moving to Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia due to their high mobility and reproductive potential,” Dr Njoka said.
DLCO had earlier projected to stop the locusts from spreading but it appears they are getting out of hand and may move further into the three countries
Dr Njoka also said that DLCO and partners are well equipped with pesticides and aircrafts ready to manage the fast moving insects. He explained that besides spraying, the partners have also trained relevant government officials from 20 counties in Kenya and will train additional 20 personnel next week on its management.
“We have nine aircrafts helping in spraying from DLCO, Kenyan government, Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), Kenyan Military and one from Zambia,” he added.
Mr Bukar Tijani, Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Assistant Director General and Regional Representative for Africa, observed that the outbreak continues to threaten food security, livestock feeds and livelihoods in East African countries.
He said that the East Africa region already faces high levels of food insecurity, with over 19 million people in crisis. This, he said will worsen if the locust are not eliminated.
According to FAO, the region is a major livestock area with over 180,000 pastoral families that have to be guarded at all cost. “We have allocated US$70 million to ensure that the worst does not happen in the region,” Mr Tijani added.
Director of IGAD’s Climate Predictions and Applications Center (ICPAC) Guleid Artan said that in the year 2019, the region experienced eight cyclones forming over the Indian Ocean, the highest number in a single year since 1976.
“This has culminated into droughts, floods and a desert locust outbreak, signs that our climate is changing and affecting livelihoods of millions of people,” Artan said.
He added that unusual weather and climate conditions have contributed to the spread, including heavy and widespread rains since October, 2019.
Although the national government and other organizations sound confident and have plans on how to eradicate the locusts, county governments paint a grim picture.
“Unfortunately counties are ill prepared technically, financially and we lack the capacity and expertise to handle such disastrous invasion by locusts,” Governor Ali Roba of Mandera County said.
Farmers are already counting their losses. According to James Mweni, a farmer in Meru, the rate at which the insects consume the vegetation is so fast and managing them is a big problem.
“They invaded my farm and ended up destroying my bananas, maize, beans and vegetables,” he said.
Mr Mweni wants the government to consider compensating farmers in the areas that the insects have destroyed crops.
He welcomed the aerial interventions, but is disturbed because he had expected to pay school fees for his school and college going children from his harvests but his hopes are now dashed.
“Something should be done to ensure that we get food and compensation until next farming season when we can be on our own,” Mr Mweni added.