Food security fears mount as State battles locusts invasion

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 21:51 |
Locusts invasion. Photo/File

Mwangi Mumero

Kenya is on high alert following the attack in  Wajir, Mandera and Marsabit counties by locusts that continue to devastate crops, pasture and livelihoods in the semi-arid region.

The government said on Saturday it had started aerial spraying in the three northern counties to try to head off a locust invasion, which has caused extensive damage to farmlands in neighbouring Somalia and Ethiopia, to reduce danger of a similar damage.

While spraying has been targeting colonies mainly in Wajir South before moving to other regions, experts, however, warn that pesticides can be harmful to livestock, humans and the environment.

As predicted early this year by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the locust invasion has come to pass even as experts question the level of preparedness of county and national governments in fighting the menace.

Control measures

A FAO warning states that Kenya needs  to urgently set up preventive and control measures against locusts which are likely to attack the country.

Sahel belt- a region that spans between Mauritania and India is the breeding ground of the desert locusts, according to Richard Muita from Kenya Meteorological Department.

“Changing climates where humid conditions are followed by hot conditions provide good breeding environment for the locusts.

High wind speed also increase he movement and the spread of the locusts,” Muita noted during an interview with a local TV station.

Recent heavy rains in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and northern Kenya have provided good breeding conditions for the locusts which  are now destroying huge swathes of crops in their wake.

After becoming airborne, swarms of tens of millions of locusts can fly up to 150 km a day.

Desert Locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) live about three months, and a female locust lays about 300 eggs.

A desert locust adult can consume roughly its own weight in fresh food per day – about two grams every day.

A very small swarm eats the same amount of food in one day as about 35 000 people.

Urgent action is needed to prevent the spread and save crops, according to FAO.

The government has been assuring residents in these regions that the aerial pesticides are not harmful if used according to the guidelines.

The guidelines

“The chemicals have been tested, registered and authorised for the control of locusts and are not harmful if used according to the guidelines”, said David Mwangi, Head of Plant protection in the Ministry of Agriculture.

Wajir Deputy Governor Ahmed Muktar who is overseeing the spraying has warned the public to keep away from areas where aerial spraying is taking place to avoid poisoning.

Muita said locusts infestation is a cyclic phenomenon that will become more frequent with the inherent climate change that has brought about period of heavy rainfall and rising temperatures.

While acknowledging that spraying is the most immediate way of controlling he pests, he added that locusts can be used as food.

“Locusts as used as food in some communities. They have high protein content which can supplement other sources of proteins for humans and animals,” he said.

Muita argued that locusts –already accepted as food by some communities –would provide better prospects in this area.

FAO said that better surveillance, preparedness remain key in preventing and controlling locusts that are bound to occur in future.

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