• Government spokesman says only areas that are sparsely populated are sprayed in a selective approach to protect human beings
Farmers in Isiolo and Meru counties have raised concern over the safety of pesticides being used to spray desert locusts.
Jeremiah Kinyua, 40, said they were apprehensive that the chemicals might be harmful to human beings. He is a resident of Maruthiu village in Igembe Central constituency, Meru county.
Kinyua said he had never seen locusts in his lifetime. He said the ravenous insects invaded the area last week. The government has already sprayed the swarms in the area, but residents say the chemicals could be harmful after some time.
"We fear that the pesticides being used to spray the locusts could be harmful to our health long after the locust have gone,” Kinyua said. He spoke to journalists who had visited Isiolo and Meru counties to assess the desert locust invasion situation.
The UN has assured the farmers that the chemicals are safe and there is proper disposal of the containers once they have been used.
“I want to be honest and say that pesticides will have effects, but key to this is how do you use it? As a responsible organisation and the government being involved, we have used the pesticides in this particular campaign by the book. We have used them the way they are supposed to be used,” Hamisi Williams said.
Williams is the deputy country representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization in Kenya.
He said people are trained before they are sent out to the field to spray the locusts. Only those technically capable of handling the pesticides are sent out.
Williams said the Pests Control Products Board only approves a pesticide for use once it has been analysed and certified as safe.
“All those pesticides being used in the desert locust campaign are approved and we are not doing something strange or out of the norm. We are using what has been approved,” Williams said.
Most of the pesticides being used for the control of desert locust are ultra-low volume (ULV) meaning only a little amount is used to spray a huge area. This means there is little pesticide that goes out into the environment, he said.
“The other advantage is the ability of these pesticides to break down very fast whenever they are exposed in the normal environment. We have been in the field since February 2020 doing this control and up to now, we have not heard any issues on this. We remain a responsible organisation and will need to do more awareness so people know that this will not affect them in a bad way but also take precautions just in case there are those that need to handle it in a special way,” Williams added.
Government spokesman Cyrus Oguna said spraying of the locusts is very targeted and selective.
“We will not spray areas that are inhabited by a large population of people but only areas where there is sparse population will be sprayed. In an event that the locusts perch where there is human habitation, then it will not be sprayed,” Oguna said.
To ensure safety in disposing of the containers for the used pesticides, FAO has bought three drum crushers for Sh24 million each.
Williams said this is an environmental, health and safety requirement for FAO to ensure that the drums being used to carry pesticides must not be allowed to find themselves in domestic places or reused in any other way because they are poisonous.
“It is required that all those drums must be mopped, cleaned and then crushed so that they are not available for use. The drums are crushed and handed over to the government to be used as scrap metal,” he said.
Edited by P.O