State, UN body say they are winning fight against locusts

Wednesday, May 6th, 2020 00:00 |
A Fao plane sprays a forest invaded by a swarm of locusts in Mugur village, Samburu East Sub-county, last week. Photo/PD/George Kebaso

Nicholas Waitathu and George Kebaso

William Lelesara, an 18-year-old herder in Mugur village, Samburu East, stands still as a statue, his gaze fixed, even as fellow villagers mill around two helicopters that have landed at their homestead.

About 200 metres away from where he stands, trees are enveloped by a dense brown canopy.

Clearly, the sight of a swarm of desert locusts atop a thicket of acacia trees that dot the forest in Mugur village  of Samburu county, is a bitter reminder of predicted doom if the insects are not dealt with quickly. 

When People Daily caught up with Lelesara in deep thought, one can only presume he is reciting a silent prayer, similar to that of Agriculture Principal Secretary Prof Hamadi Boga who last week said: “We are winning the war against the locusts. We are now praying that the winds continue blowing northwards, and out of the country.”

The PS said currently the winds, which the locusts depend on to move from one place to another, have changed direction and are blowing northwards to Somalia, a situation that will halt the predicted second invasion from the Horn of Africa.

Blow northwards

“According to the estimates we have on our table the war against locusts will go on to June, and latest July, but all these depend on whether the country experiences another invasion, which is most unlikely.

This is because we have seen change of winds”, Boga said on Thursday in Isiolo after an extensive tour of the county and neighbouring Samburu and Marsabit.

He told journalists at El-Borana Resort that the war was focused in Isiolo, Marsabit, and Turkana; and the lowland areas of Samburu where a concentration of locust swarms has been sighted from the digital maps based at a command centre in Lewa Conservancy.

“We are receiving reports everyday about some swarms there and currently we are targeting them, but the number has reduced.

There was a time in Samburu we had 400 swarms when the invasion was at its peak, but now, the daily reports indicate that there are about three to four swarms, indicating that we are flattening the invasion curve,” he said.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) observed that the intervention efforts could have been faster were it not for the rugged terrain at the heart of the locusts concentration with dense forests and desert conditions that are conducive for the breeding of the insects.

Count losses

When the locusts invaded Mugur village, Lelesara, armed with a herder’s stick, walked down and started dispersing the locusts with the hope of vanquishing them.

“We have heard that the ongoing interventions and a change of weather may halt more locusts coming here. This is our prayer as herders.

These things have brought misery to all of us,” he said, adding that pastoralists had complained that their animals had fallen sick since the locusts emerged in the village two weeks ago.

Tiampati Leleti, a resident and village leader in Mugur, is counting losses in the two weeks the locusts have invaded the village. He said he has lost maize and beans crop valued at Sh2,400.

“Livestock is suffering from retarded growth... Since March this year, I have lost 80 goats and five cows and we have informed both National and county governments but we haven’t been compensated.

We fear that if the invasion of locust continues, even human beings will suffer economically and socially,” he said.

Albert Lemasulani, a resident and community leader in Isiolo county, and one of the field volunteers helping in the aerial surveillance, called on the government to enhance its intervention activities to eliminate the new generation of locusts as old ones have already laid eggs.

He said the invasion may result in economic losses to the residents of Samburu East, who are mainly pastoralists. 

“The locusts have eaten vegetation and have laid eggs that are about to hatch. This will affect the residents’ livestock with some dying and prompting pastoralists to start migrating to other areas,” he said.

Track locusts

Lemasulani added that the movement in search of new pasture areas might cause conflict among communities in Arid and Semi Arid Lands.

However, a representative of FAO allayed fears of new invasion, saying besides addressing initial challenges of logistics, the ongoing surveillance, monitoring and spraying had reduced the populations.

FAO Assistant Representative in charge of programmes, Williams Hamisi, said initial challenge included sourcing for planes that could work with precision to avoid wastage of chemicals.

“This took some time, until we managed to get two of the spray crafts we are using from South Africa,” he said.

The organisation, he added,  had mobilised resources to intensify the war. “We have seen this progress for example, aircraft spraying the pests and development of new technology to help in tracking and identifying the locusts.

Through the application, FAO through an organisation -Plant Village - and counties has engaged 900 youth to help in identifying and reporting the whereabouts of the locusts. The youth are facilitated to move around areas through motorbikes,” he said.

One of the youths trained to do surveillance through a smart phone and to send reports to a command centre in Lewa Conservancy is Tyson Lengoros. 

“I graduated from Mt Kenya University last December. Other youth  and I were engaged by FAO to help trace the locusts.

“Once we trace the locust swarms, we report to the disaster management unit in Isiolo county. For example, for the last two weeks I have been able to trace six swarms.

I have alerted the command centre, and hence the spraying you have seen today,” he told People Daily in Mugur village on Wednesday.

Isiolo Governor Mohamed Kuti expressed confidence that the ongoing interventions by the national government and partners were now bearing fruit.

“Since December when the locusts invasion was reported in the region from Yemen through Ethiopia and Somalia, meaningful progress has been achieved. 

The number of swarms we used to witness in December and January has reduced substantially,” the governor said in Isiolo town.

Kuti is happy the fight had created an opportunity for the unemployed youth in the region during this hard period of Covid-19 that has grounded many economic activities in the country. 

There have been fears that the fight against locusts invasion had been lost as the national government, counties, state agencies and partners focused on Covid-19, leaving the locusts to continue devastating livelihoods.

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