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 .They 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.
Speaking to RoGGKenya, the Director General of Desert Locust Control Organization (DLCO) Dr. Stephen Njoka said that 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 in Nairobi.
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.
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) Assistant Director General and Regional Representative for Africa Mr. Bukar Tijani, 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 U.S. dollars 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 Oct. 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 of Mandera County Ali Roba 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.
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,” he added.
According to the experts, large and numerous swarms continue to destroy crops and pastures across parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya.
Locust breeding and movements are taking place also in Djibouti, Eritrea and Sudan.
FAO says that desert locust had been reported globally since the outbreaks of 1926 – 1934, 1940 – 1948, 1949 – 1963, 1967 – 1969 and 1986 – 1989.
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, 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.
- Locusts differ from grasshoppers in that they have the ability to change their behavior and habits and can migrate over large distances.
- Desert locusts are usually restricted to semi arid and arid deserts of Africa, near East and South West Asia that receive less than 200 mm of rain annually.
- Locust move in swarms.There can be at least 40 million and sometimes as many as 80 million locust adults in each square kilometers of swarm.
- Locusts do not attack human beings and animals. They do not have diseases that can affect humans.
- At present they are mainly controlled by organophosphate chemicals that are sprayed using aircrafts and hand held sprayers. However, extensive research is in progress to determine biological control and other means of non chemical control.
- They are difficult to control due to extremely large areas where they are found, remoteness and difficult access of such areas, insecurity or lack of safety in such areas, limited resources for locust monitoring from governments, lack of roads and political relations between countries the difficulty in predicting outbreaks.
What journalists should do :
- Monitor the movement of the locusts and report about it.
- Follow up on what different governments have promised to do and monitor if the measures put in place are helping the situation.
- Always ask for the opinion of experts or government officials to help explain this topic further to avoid misleading the listener, viewers and readers.
- Verify any information they receive in regard to the locust to avoid causing unnecessary alarm since sometimes it may not exactly be desert locusts.
- Follow up and report on the damages caused by desert locusts in regard to food security.
- Follow up on the budget allocation for controlling the desert locust and if it was spent as it was intended.
- Journalists should rely on FAO, DLCO, WHO, IGAD and government websites for reliable information on desert locusts.
Links for further reading
Contact persons that journalists could make inquiries to often
1. Cyril Ferrand (FAO), Resilience Team Leader Eastern Africa / Subregional Office for Eastern Africa Telephone: +254 780 522 580 Email: Ferrand@fao.org
2. Guleid Artan (ICPAC), Director, IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Center, Telephone: +254 742 368 532 Email: email@example.com , firstname.lastname@example.org
3. Stephen Njoka (DLCO), Director General, Desert Locust Control Organization, Telephone: +254 – 724834577, Email: email@example.com
Click HERE for a comprehensive list of experts on different topics.
By Nicholas Anyuor