Kenya: Worst Locust Invasion May Hit Country Mid-December

A swarm of locusts spotted at Riandira village in Kirinyaga County (file photo).
27 November 2020

Kenya could face its worst locust invasion in mid-December after a cyclone that allows the pests to rapidly mature hit Somalia.

This emerged even as an Agriculture ministry survey showed Samburu, Turkana, Laikipia, Isiolo, Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet were the hardest-hit by the first round of invasion earlier this year.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations said in an update on Tuesday that Cyclone Gati struck Somalia last week, and this will hasten maturity of the swarms.

The cyclone that formed in the Indian Ocean from Tuesday to Saturday caused rains along the Coast of northern Somalia, the driest part of the country.

Heightened vigilance

Many of the swarms, according to the agency, will migrate to the south of Somalia and southern Ethiopia, reaching northern Kenya by mid-December.

"The potential scale of this migration could be substantial...heightened vigilance and preparedness are called for in Kenya," FAO warned in its update.

There are fears the cyclone could have swept immature swarms at Hargeisa and Jijiga towards southeast Ogaden where they could mature and lay eggs in their current breeding areas.

FAO earlier said widespread breeding in eastern Ethiopia and Central Somalia, coupled with potential expansion to northern Somalia, will cause numerous immature swarms to start forming early December and continue to the end of the year.

Eight counties are already battling fresh invasions by small mature swarms that migrated from Somalia a week ago.

The pests that were blown by the strong northerly winds have invaded Mandera, Isiolo, Wajir, Garissa, Tana River, Kitui and Taita Taveta, destroying crops and grass, and threatening food security in the region.

Second generation

Samburu is dealing with second generation hoppers that have formed at Ndoto hills in Samburu North, wreaking havoc on over 20 acres of pasture.

Samburu Special Programmes Chief Officer Daniel Leisagor yesterday said continued destruction of grassland at Ndoto hills, used by pastoralists during dry seasons, threatens food security.

"We've already sprayed one of the swarms at Ndoto hills and we suspect there are others because the hill is inaccessible and bushy," Mr Leisagor said.

Agriculture PS Hamadi Boga said measures have been put in place to deal with the invasion and that over 216,000 litres of pesticides have been procured.

"We're well prepared and we will continue assessing the situation and making necessary adjustments to handle the invasion. We've teams on the ground, have enough chemicals and will procure more planes for control operations. Every operation base has hand-sprayers and vehicles for ground surveillance," Prof Boga said.

Meanwhile, a survey the Agriculture ministry commissioned has revealed that the eight counties' economic activities were adversely affected by the locust invasion, with crop and livestock production being worst hit.

The report shows that the counties had an average of 77 per cent of its crops severely damaged by the swarm, with an overall 70 per cent of the free-range grazing lands affected.

Elgeyo Marakwet suffered the most, as it lost its crop and pasture lands to the swarms. It lost 45 per cent of its crop land and 13 per cent of its pasture.

Baringo and Laikipia counties lost nine and seven per cent of crop land, respectively, while Samburu, Isiolo and Baringo lost six and five per cent of pasture, respectively, to the swarms. In all, 63 per cent of crops and 65 per cent of grazing lands were affected.

The report, which was handed to Agriculture Cabinet secretary Peter Munya on Saturday, was conducted by Kenya Red Cross Society, with FAO funding .

It was done in 28 counties which were affected by the desert locusts during the first wave of last December.

In readiness for the second wave, the CS said the government has put up measures, which include ground and aerial surveys, getting ready with pesticides, training operation teams and creating awareness among communities.

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