Kenya is staring at a possible crisis in the coming weeks as desert locusts land in the country after breeding near the Tanzania, Ethiopia and Somalia borders, where egg laying and hopper band formation has been reported.
Already, the pests have invaded farms and pastures, threatening the already distressed vegetation in Taita-Taveta, Kilifi and Tana River counties.
In Taita-Taveta, agriculture officers have launched a campaign to combat the infestation while in Kilifi and Tana River, residents have raised concern over increasing numbers of insects in the area.
In Tana River, the most affected areas include Chara, Kilelengwani and Kitere. In Chara, farmers are camping in their farms in an attempt to keep the locusts away.
Over 3,000 acres of vegetation in the county have been ravaged, leaving more than 1,000 families in food distress. Of the 3,000 acres, an approximate 1,200 acres are farmland, with Hola irrigation scheme also invadeed
"The adult locusts caused a little bit of damage to the crops but we sprayed. However, we noted they were in the farm by dawn, we responded at about mid-morning. They certainly may have laid eggs, hence a possibility of the larvae emerging," said the scheme's agronomist, Johnson Muko.
Mandera, Isiolo, Wajir, Garissa and Kitui counties are also battling fresh invasions by small immature swarms that migrated from Somalia in late November and which continue to devour vegetation and grasslands.
Second generation hoppers
Samburu is dealing with second generation hoppers that continue to wreak havoc on pasturelands with the possibility of sparking resource-based conflicts.
The county has already turned to mobile technology to track and report the destructive pests before spraying is done.
The ground team and scouts, upon sighting the locusts in the field, take photos and videos and upload them onto the E-Locust app, developed by the state in collaboration with the UN agency.
The gathered information is sent in real-time to a database at the locusts control centre in Nairobi to guide in the control operations.
A large immature swarm was last week spotted at Kebri Dehar in the eastern part of the Somali region of Ethiopia.
Immature swarms continue to form within a large area in eastern Ethiopia and central Somalia and a big number of hopper bands are fledging to form new immature swarms even with intensive ground and aerial control operations underway in the two countries.
"The swarms are expected to move south anytime to southern Somalia, southern Ethiopia and then Northern Kenya," Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in a December 19 update.
Meanwhile, FAO has also warned that without additional funding, locust control efforts could slow down or halt from the end of January 2021, potentially allowing the numbers of the voracious pests to surge in some places. Also, the agency says that farmers whose livelihoods have been impacted require further support.
According to FAO, control operations have prevented the loss of an estimated 2.7 million tonnes of cereals worth nearly $800 million ( Sh89.2 billion) in countries already hard hit by acute food insecurity and poverty, food enough to feed approximately 18 million people a year.
Breeding continues in northern Somalia due to favourable conditions caused by the heavy rains occasioned by the recent cyclone and hatching and band formation is expected on the northwest coast and in the northeast in the coming weeks.
While control operations are underway in the affected counties, FAO has called for intensive surveys between Mandera and Turkana counties.
There are fears the expected wave of locusts will multiply further and wreak havoc on farms and pasturelands in the arid and semi-arid counties that continue to grapple with prolonged drought.
Millions of the desert locusts have caused destruction across East Africa in what the agency has termed the worst outbreak in a quarter of a century.
The agency recently said the risk remained high in Northern Kenya where existing locusts could lay eggs in sandy areas with hatching and band formation having already started.
The government faces a difficult task in dealing with the impending invasion which will cause further suffering to Kenyans adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Breeding is ongoing on both sides of the Red Sea and adult swarms have started laying eggs on the coastal plains of Eritrea, Sudan and Saudi Arabia where control operations have been intensified.
"Extreme vigilance and preparedness is required in Kenya and close monitoring and control operations continue along both sides of the Red Sea," the agency noted.
Reporting by Waweru Wairimu, Stephen Odour and Geoffrey Ondieki