By Nicholas Waitathu
The national government and its development partners will spend over Sh300 million to support activities outlined to fight the spreading desert locusts that have so far attacked vegetation in six countries in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL).
Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri confirmed that elaborate plans have been put in place to ensure the dangerous pests do not spread to other countries, warning further spread might compromise food security in the country.
“We recognise that the pest invasion and potential to spread rapidly to other counties pose unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the country,” said Mr. Kiunjuri.
“We have requested for Sh254 million from the disaster management kitty and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has pledged Sh50 million and additional insecticides,” said CS Kiunjuri.
The desert locusts crossed the border into Kenya from Somalia on December 28, 2019 while other swarms continued coming in from Ethiopia with additional ones from Somalia. Scientists say the pests’ breeding ground is the Red Sea region, mainly Yemen.
Kiunjuri explained that the desert locusts, which have the ability to fly an average of 120 kilometers per day, have invaded Mandera, Marsabit, Garissa, Wajir, Isiolo and Samburu counties
The Agriculture CS said that the government has dispatched a second aerial spray aircraft to Isiolo County to bolster operations while a third one will be released next week.
“Also we are inducting officers in the counties so that they are able to handle the locusts should they cross over to the neighboring counties of Isiolo, Samburu, Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Kitui, Garissa, Embu and Laikipia. And we have reached out to governors of the respective counties to send their teams to Isiolo County for a training starting this weekend,” he explained.
He added: “We have set up a multi-sector command center at the Ministry of Agriculture, Nairobi to help in managing the situation. The command centre will be comprise agencies like KALRO, KEPHIS, Pest Control Products Board, University of Nairobi, the Desert Locust Control Organization of East Africa, FAO and ICIPE.”
Desert Locust Control Organization (DLCO) for Eastern Africa confirmed that the locusts have been spotted in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan earlier.
The organisation’s head, Dr Stephen Njoka, said that the pests are spreading very fast in Kenya than it has been witnessed in the neighbouring countries.
DLCO operates in Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
“These desert locusts have been spotted in the neighbouring countries but we did not know it will get to Kenya. We had already experienced it in Ethiopia and Somalia and part of Sudan but we are on the ground reinforcing our mitigating activities,” said Dr Njoka.
He added: “We are very keen on the safety of insecticides being used and I can confirm that they are Ultra Low Volume Sprays which are released in very little doses for long distances but still very effective.” the insecticides target the locusts and they are safe.
Njoka said desert locust travles in big swarms which can have between 40 million and 60 million insects thus posing a big challenge in tackling them, but hastened to add that they can be easily destroyed at their breeding grounds.
Further, Kiunjuri said the government has intensified monitoring of the destruction of the pest on vegetation through local chiefs, elders, county commissioner and community members.
The communities have been urged once they locate swarms of the locust at their resting habitats to immediately relay the information to the chiefs and other government officers deployed on the ground.
Government, Kiunjuri said, has so far distributed pesticides, vehicle mounted sprayers, motorized knapsack sprayers, handheld ultra-low volume sprayers and personnel protective gears in the affected regions.
“We have managed to spray several large swarms of locusts and are currently tracking others with trained officers in the counties of Mandera, Wajir and Marsabit,” he added. .
Kiunjuri explained that the best time to attack the locusts is during their resting time, from around 5pm to around 8am.
He denied reports that desert locusts were identified in Machakos and Meru counties as reported in a section of the media, saying there are other trans-boundary pests entering the country from other countries.