The National Youth Service (NYS) is now being recruited to help combat the desert locusts, which have so far invaded a whopping 70,000 hectares, in 17 counties.
The service men and women, who are trained on handling important national matters, are receiving intensive training on locust control. They will be deployed to help contain the situation, which has put Kenya’s food security at great risk.
A square kilometre swarm of desert locusts can eat food that can be consumed by about 35,000 people in one day, which according to FAO, complicates the country’s food situation, considering that at least 3.1 million Kenyans in arid and semi-arid areas were already food insecure by October of 2019.
Speaking when he officially launched the three-day training at NYS Gilgil, on Monday, the FAO country representative Mr Tobias Takavarasha said that after training, the NYS trainees will be deployed to affected regions to help in ground monitoring and surveillance.
“The locust invasion is a clear recipe for hunger and food insecurity, which is likely lead to malnutrition among affected communities,” he said.
Mr Takavarasha also noted that their (FAO’s) biggest concern was that the first swarms of locusts that entered Kenya from Ethiopia and Somalia, had started breeding.
“We were lucky because the first swarms came in when people had not planted. They are now breeding and going by the season, the eggs are likely to hatch during the planting season when crops will be starting to germinate,” he said.
The training involves use of different hand spraying machines, ground spraying techniques, knowledge of various pesticides to be used, and surveillance methods. It is being led by an expert brought in from Morocco by FAO.
The team of young men and women will be deployed in Isiolo, Turkana, Machakos, Marsabit, Garissa and Wajir counties, in cohorts, to collect information and data on the stages of locust habitation, breeding and population. This information will then help in strategising the spraying of the hopper bands and in coming up with anti-locust control mechanisms.
The recruitment of NYS youth will boost the efforts of the teams on the ground. The already affected counties include Wajir, Isiolo, Mandera, Garissa, Turkana, Baringo, Tharaka Nithi, Laikipia, Meru, Kitui, Embu, Machakos, Kajiado, Muranga and Kirinyaga.
Currently, the Government together with FAO has put in place a six-month long strategy to fight the locusts and has invested in ground surveillance to deal with them when they are still hopper bands, before they start breeding, said administrative secretary for crops in the ministry of Agriculture, Kello Harsame.
“We cannot allow them to mature as their population will double almost 20 times,” he added.
Kenya has been using vehicles mounted and aerial sprayers to battle the locust menace, but the hand held ones are also expected to come in handy according to the trainers.
The Government released Ksh230 million (about US$2.3m) in January to tackle the locust invasion and the treasury has approved an additional Ksh300 million (about US$3m).
At least US$76 million will, however, be needed, if the desert locust menace is to be dealt with effectively within the Horn of Africa.