With the planting season now in full gear, Kenyan farmers have to contend with a destructive new enemy.
From Tuta absoluta in tomatoes, and the MLND (maize lethal necrosis disease) to the Fall armyworm that continues to devastate maize plantations across the country, farmers must prepare for an even worse enemy – the second wave of the desert locust invasion. It is predicted it will be 20 times larger than that what was experienced at the beginning of the year.
Many farms have borne the brunt of swarms of voracious insects that have already invaded over 20 counties. Nyandarua County, central Kenya’s food basket, is feeling the effect of the insects capable of destroying at least 200 tonnes of vegetation per day.
According to a Nyandarua County Food Situation, the county’s food reserves are running low, following the locust invasion. Some sectors have recorded up to 75 per cent yield drop.
Kinangop Constituency had 45,800 bags of maize, 350 bags of beans and 100,000 bags of potato to feed its for two-and-a-half months.
With the heavy rains, the locusts are likely to find breeding grounds as they wait to devour the young crops unless the government wages a spirited war against them.
The new generation of the insects that will emerge from eggs laid in the first wave, experts reveal, will pose a huge threat to food security, livelihoods and nutrition.
These locusts will attack the young maize plants, especially in the food basket regions.
The Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Prof Hamadi Boga, said the locust invasion poses a threat to the country’s food security.
“These insects will invade the young maize crop.”
To make matters worse, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown the fight against the locust invasion off balance. It is a double tragedy.
Last month, announcing additional measures to tackle the locust menace, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya acknowledged the challenge of sourcing pesticides as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is a challenge due to the coronavirus pandemic and its effects on logistics, which has seen most airline flights cancelled worldwide,” Mr Munya told reporters.
He said the ministry was sourcing for 100,000 litres of pesticides and an additional 20 aircrafts to be used in aerial spraying of the insects.
The aerial spraying is going on in Isiolo, Samburu, Wajir and Marsabit and other counties.
However, environmentalists have warned that the massive spraying of locusts could lead to a decline in the population of bees and other useful insects.
The locust menace was first reported last December in the northeastern counties of Garissa, Wajir and Mandera, but has since spread to over 20 of the 47 counties. The desert locusts –the most virulent of all the species – know no boundaries.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), swarms can travel up to 130 kilometres per day. A kilometre-wide swarm can contain up to 80 million insects. This is Kenya’s worst locust menace in 70 years.
The latest invasion has stretched the capacities of the national and local authorities to the limit. In January, the UN agency had predicted that the locust numbers could grow 500 times by June.