THREAT TO FOOD SECURITY

Desert locusts ravage eight counties

In Summary

• Laikipia and Meru among counties invaded by the devastating desert locust. 

• There are concerns that the desert locusts could spread to the Eastern parts which are dry

Desert locusts crossed to Kenya from Ethiopia and Somalia in December
DESTRUCTIVE: Desert locusts crossed to Kenya from Ethiopia and Somalia in December
Image: /COURTESY

Desert locusts have spread to two more counties – Meru and Laikipia.

They have now invaded eight counties. By Friday last week, the locusts had been reported in Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit, Garissa, Isiolo and Samburu counties.

Agriculture CAS Andrew Tuimur on Monday confirmed that the locusts have been sighted in parts of Meru and Laikipia counties.

 
 

“The locusts spread to the two counties over the weekend and our team is doing its best to ensure they do not spread to the neighbouring counties in Central region,” he said.

Tuimur said the ministry is working to hire two more aircrafts to add to the two that are currently being used for aerial spraying in the control of the desert locusts that are spreading rapidly.

Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri said on Friday during a media briefing on the locust invasion that the ministry is yet to receive Sh254 million it had requested from the National Treasury to help in controlling the desert locusts.

Locust Status and Forecast
Locust Status and Forecast
Image: FAO

The CS said the money will be provided from the supplementary budget to control the devastating pests before they spread further.

Kiunjuri said on January 10 that the first swarm crossed the border into Kenya from Somalia on December 28 last year. Other swarms continue to come in from Ethiopia.

“We recognise that the pest invasion and the potential to spread rapidly to other counties pose an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the country,” he said.

Kiunjuri said the government, in partnership with the Desert Locusts Control Organisation, has mobilised technical officers on the ground to control operations and train people on the ground interventions.

 
 
 

In February last year, the UN-Food Agricultural Organization issued an alert about the desert locust invasion which were first reported in Yemen.

The locusts then spread to Africa in Somali, Ethiopia and Eritrea before crossing into Kenya through Mandera, where they were first sighted.

There are concerns that the desert locusts could spread to the Eastern parts which are dry.

Locusts cause devastating damage to green vegetation including crops, pasture or trees.

Dr David Mwangi, head of Plant Protection Services at the Ministry of Agriculture, said the last desert locust invasion reported in Kenya was in 2007 in Mandera and Wajir counties.

He said the locusts normally come from Ethiopia and Somalia because they multiply in the Red Sea coastal region of Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and then across areas of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Mwangi said those countries along the Red Sea control them every year, but they cross to Kenya once in while when the control is not very effective or when the populations are high.

“Desert locust invasion is not very common in Kenya but when they cross, it is important to manage and control them in border countries like Mandera, Marsabit and Wajir."

When the locusts were first reported, the government sent a team to Mandera and Wajir to start control of the pest.

Mwangi explained that they started with a ground survey with the county team to find out exactly where the swarms of locusts were, and how they were moving before aerial spraying.

He said aerial spraying is being done by low flying aircrafts once the ground team has surveyed, and they get the go-ahead from the security team.

Dr Muo Kasina, chairman of the Entomological Society of Kenya, has however warned that the locusts could spread across the country.

He said the more it rains, the more the desert locusts invade the country due to favourable weather conditions.

“As they fly, chances are that they are mating, and they will breed locally. These insects are likely to identify suitable habitats where the populations are likely to propagate,” he said.

Muo said the rainy season is favourable for breeding of locusts and it will be difficult to completely eradicate the pests.

He said the government needs to work with counties to identify potential breeding habitats and target them for management.

“Focus on the potential breeding habitats and kill the populations that emerge from those habitats. This will ensure we don't allow the eggs laid in the country to hatch,” Muo said.

Christian Koiman, a retired locusts expert, explained that a single female locust can lay up to 300 eggs.

“After mating, the males die leaving the females to lay eggs. The eggs hatch in two-three weeks and the larva takes two-three weeks to become adults. Adult desert locusts are pink when not yet ready to lay eggs and take two weeks to mature, then they turn yellow," Koiman said.

"So when the conditions are right, the population can explode very fast. The locusts travel by wind, and they can travel at least 150-200km a day.” 

John Nderitu, an insect scientist from the University of Nairobi, said integrated pest management (IPM) methods can be used to limit the population.

“We recommend different IPM methods to ensure we manage the insects, including mechanical and chemical control as well as traditional methods such as harvesting the insects for food, and scaring them away,” he said.

Nderitu assured Kenyans that the chemicals being used to spray the locust are safe for the environment and humans as they have been used for a long time.

Kiunjuri said the government had intensified monitoring through chiefs, elders, county commissioners and community members by asking that they locate and report sightings of swarms in their resting habitats.

“It is important for all of us to know that the most effective way to attack these locusts is when they are resting and not when they are on the move. This way, the whole swarms can be attacked early mornings as they rest,” the CS said.

Kiunjuri further said Kenyans should be aware that not all grasshoppers are desert locusts. This follows reports of sightings of locusts in parts of Kajiado, Meru and Kirinyaga counties. The insects have been confirmed to be the longhorn grasshoppers.

“What was reported in one media station as locusts sightings in Machakos and Meru are long-horned variegated grasshoppers that are normally with us but which have now multiplied because of the weather changes,” he said.

Did you know

- That desert locusts derive the name 'desert' because when they are not migrating, they like to breed in the wet sands in the deserts.

- A single female locust can lay up to 300 eggs and after mating, the male dies.

- A desert locust is pink when it is not yet ready to lay eggs and take two weeks to mature to an adult and turns yellow.

- The locusts travel by wind for at least 150-200km a day.

- That a locust can consume food equivalent to its own weight of two grams per day. A tonne of locusts can consume the same amount of food per day as about 20 elephants, or 25 camels or 2,500 people.

- That a desert locust has a lifespan of about three-four months.