Pastoralists suffer double pain as locusts, Corona hit

Thursday, July 9th, 2020 00:00 |

Nicholas Waitathu and George Kebaso

For Joseph Lelesala and Tiampati Leleti, two pastoralists from Samburu county, 2020 has been a year to forget.

First it was the locust invasion, which devastated vegetation in the expansive county, forcing them to sell their animals at throw-away prices.

Then another tragedy struck, the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw the closure of all livestock markets in the vast region in a bid to contain the virus.

According to a preliminary report compiled by an impact assessment team established last month by the Ministry of Agriculture, the locusts destroyed more than one million hectares of crop and pasture land since the year began.

Counting losses

“The locust invasion has negatively impacted the local economies through the massive destruction of crops and vegetation, endangering the lives of the locals and their livestock,” says Hamisi Williams, Assistant Representative Programmes, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) during a webinar organised by the Agriculture ministry to give an update on desert locust control programme. 

“Since the desert swarms invaded our area, I have lost more than 80 goats and cows. Our livestock are also starving as the locusts have eaten nearly all the vegetation.

We have not received any compensation from county and national government,” said Tiampati in an interview with People Daily at his homestead in Waso ward of Samburu East.

The twin calamities have robbed Tiampati and his neighbours of their sources of livelihood, making them unable to meet their financial obligations.

“We have sold almost all the remaining cows and goats to avoid total losses,” he explains.

Lelesala is also counting his losses after his entire crop comprising green pepper, onions, kales and Sukumawiki was consumed by the swarms of locusts.

“Recently, we have noticed pastoralists from other counties migrating to our region. This, we fear if not addressed might cause conflicts among our communities. 

Our income has decreased since the livestock markets were closed following the outbreak of Covid -19. I have lost 12 cows since March,” said Lelesala.

Ray of hope

But there is a ray of hope for the farming community in the region, which will soon benefit from a Sh4.3 billion World Bank fund to finance restoration of their livelihoods. Last month, the Ministry of Agriculture commissioned an impact assessment team to be overseen by the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS)to assess the damage caused by desert locusts.

“Both crop and pasture lands were invaded by desert locusts. However, the damage varies from one county to another,” said Asha Mohamed, KRCS Secretary General. 

The country has been under locust invasion since December 28, 2019 spreading to 28 counties.

Currently, the government in conjunction with other partners including Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank, Desert Locust and Control Organisation (DLCO) and African Development Bank (AfDB) has managed to wipe out the locusts in all, but four counties –Turkana, Samburu, Marsabit and Isiolo.

Agriculture Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga confirmed that the ministry is putting in place measures to restore the affected livelihoods by supporting farmers and communities who have suffered economically following the desert locusts’ invasion.

“Aerial and ground spray of swarms and hoppers has been ongoing in seventeen counties. We have been able to undertake this following support to the tune of Sh2.4 billion from the national Government and its partners—World Bank, DLCO, AfDB and FAO.

Our hope is that in the next few months, we will have fully tamed the pest,’ said Boga.

The World Bank provided under the three year Emergency Locust Response Programme is geared towards helping the affected residents restore their crop and pasture land and restock livestock.

Vinay Kumar, a senior Agricultural Economist at the World Bank says the programme seeks to provide grants to restore crop and livestock production among the affected communities.

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