Kenya has the required pesticides to tackle the ongoing locust invasion, even as swarms threaten to decimate food, the Agrochemicals Association of Kenya (AAK) says.

With the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) now warning of a 400-fold increase in the number of locusts in the region by June, if spraying is delayed, the eggs laid by the swarms in January are now hatching. And they are generating increasingly large numbers of the deadly insects.

While for other countries in the region, reduced air cargo due to the coronavirus pandemic has prevented importation of pesticides, Kenya still has incoming cargo capacity. It has, therefore, been able to import far more than it needs to spray the next round of swarms, the association says.

“As one of Africa’s largest agricultural exporters, we have cargo-only flights. These have traditionally arrived in Kenya nearly empty and left full. Thus, even with our total air cargo down to a 10th of its normal capacity, it is offering more than 400 tonnes a week of incoming cargo capacity, which has allowed our industry to bring in far more than the 100 tonnes needed for the next rounds of swarm spraying,” says AAK Chief Executive Officer Eric Kimunguyi.

Kenya has also concluded the identification of suitable pesticides. This has been challenging for the scientific community globally, because the opportunity to test insecticides on swarming locusts is rare and irregular, sometimes occurring only once in 20 or even 50 years.

 “Eradicating locust swarms and eggs is not an everyday challenge that the world’s agricultural organisations can test at will,” the CEO adds.

However, working from the experience available and the insecticides approved globally as safe for use, the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) carried out consultations this year. It last month gathered submissions and test data from which it announced a list of 64 insecticides suitable for use on locusts.

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All of the 64 have met the safety standards in Kenya or other global regimes for use on other pests.

However, despite the availability of the pesticides, spraying is yet to begin, as it is being held up by the government’s decision on how to proceed and procurement.

“With these recommended products, the industry now has in place 200 tonnes of pesticides suitable for locust use. Thus, it is now a case of selection and moving to spraying,” CEO Kimunguyi adds.

The PCPB has emphasised the need to use varied insecticides to prevent any build-up in resistance by locusts to any one product. The scientists must also select the best product for eggs and hoppers, where the initially approved list was proven only on mature swarms.

“We believe the initial selections are okay. But the important thing to note is that as soon as the Ministry of Agriculture is ready to deploy its recommended locust insecticides, we have them here already. We may just need to see some bold decisions about choosing the right products from the list, and about now starting the spraying of beds and hoppers, if we are to preempt new swarms,” he concludes.

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