Kenya: Farmers in Northern Counties Face Threat of New Locust Swarms

Desert locusts (file photo).

The fight to contain swarms of desert locusts that continue to wreak havoc in several Northern Kenya counties might take longer following the ongoing long rains which will hasten the insects' maturity and laying of eggs.

The second wave of invasion has so far been reported in more than 15 counties with fears that the remaining swarms could multiply and get out of hand due to cold conditions occasioned by the rains.

Although the Food and Agriculture Organisation says swarms continue to decline in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, where control operations are underway, ongoing rains in southern parts of Ethiopia which will give rise to hatching and hopper band formation in coming weeks will pose a huge threat to Kenya.

Farmers, who have started planting, stare at huge losses as the ongoing rains present favourable breeding grounds for the swarms. Swarms can fly up to 150 kilometres in a day with a square kilometre swarm consuming as much food in a day as 35, 000 people.

The continued destruction of crops and pastures in the affected counties threatens livelihoods of millions of people in Kenya and poses a huge threat to farming and pastoralism, the main economic lifeline.

The voracious pests have caused destruction on crops in Embu, Tharaka Nithi, Meru counties and pastures in Northern Kenya.

Other counties where infestations have been reported in the last two months include Samburu, Laikipia, Baringo, Marsabit, Mandera, Garissa, Machakos, Wajir, Isiolo, Tana River, Kilifi, Nyandarua and Kitui.

Agriculture CS Peter Munya recently said besides ground and aerial control operations, the government was training local communities on reporting of the swarms so that they are sprayed within the shortest time possible.

Lack of regional coordination efforts among countries in the Horn of Africa could further worsen the situation in Kenya as limited control operations continue against hopper bands on the Red Sea Coast in neighbouring Sudan.

Majority of the infestations present in Ethiopia, where immature swarms persist to the East of Rift Valley in Bale Mountains and Harar Highlands areas that received rainfall, could start breeding in the coming weeks.

In the latest forecast, the UN agency said few immature swarms persist northeast Somalia between Galkayo and Gardo areas and that swarms in Samburu had started maturing and could start laying eggs in two weeks' time.

"Good rains have fallen this month in parts of Northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia that will allow current swarms to mature and lay eggs. This is likely to give rise to hatching and hopper band formation during May," Fao said in April 13 update.

The rains will force the pests to move from the dry areas to regions where rain has fallen in search for fodder.

FAO projects further decline in the upsurge in the Horn of Africa on condition that control operations are sustained in the affected counties and the region receives suppressed rainfall especially in Northern Kenya and northeast Ethiopia saying it 'the situation could return to normal by September'.

This is if an earlier Meteorological forecast that indicated the Northern region will get below average rainfall is anything to go by.

"The affected countries should sustain the current survey and control efforts in reducing existing swarms as well as detecting and controlling any breeding in the coming months," the agency appealed.

Meanwhile, lack of funding continues to impede the ongoing efforts to contain the destructive pests.

The UN agency had earlier requested Sh877 million from donors to combat the menace but had by early last month received Sh219 million that Deputy Country Director Hamisi Williams said would have sustained aerial services to the end of March.

The President Uhuru Kenyatta government allocated Sh1.9 billion for the fight against locusts in the recently released supplementary budget.

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