Enhance Coordination Capacity to Deal with Locust Plague

Source:VICTOR ONYANGO 2020-03-13


  Locusts were first spotted in Mandera on December 28 before they spread to neighboring Wajir, Garissa and Marsabit. They have now entered Isiolo, Meru and Samburu.

  The ongoing march by armies of desert locusts a dangerous species of the grasshopper family that eats every green matter on sight threatens Kenya’s food security and, by extension, the economy.

  Experts have warned that the pests have the potential of destroying swathes of maize, coffee, vegetable and tea plantations, and can knock down seasons of food, prompting acute hunger.

  Any disruption in the agriculture sector, a major driver of Kenya’s economy that contributes up to Sh2.9 trillion, according to last year’s estimates, can substantially slow down growth.

  Senior government officials in charge of Agriculture have admitted that pest invasion and the potential to spread rapidly to other counties posed an unprecedented threat to food security.

  A Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) forecast in the Horn of Africa paints the situation as extremely serious, the worst in 25 years, though it says breeding is expected to be low in Kenya.

  According to FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu, tens of thousands of hectares of crops have been devastated in the region.

  Agriculture Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga said the government was yet to quantify the loss as the focus was on control, but past attacks have caused losses of up to 70 per cent.

  While the pests have largely destroyed pasture in rangeland counties and the relatively small patches of farms in the arid and semi-arid counties, the voracious locusts have a strong preference for graminaceous plants, such as millet and maize, and their advance into the country’s food basket areas would be devastating.

  Swarms can travel up to 130km (80 miles) per day and a kilometer-wide swarm can contain up to 80 million locusts, according to FAO.

  Locusts have already destroyed 70,000 hectares (175,000 acres) of farmland in Somalia and Ethiopia, threatening food supplies in both countries in the worst locust invasion in 70 years, according to FAO.

  Experts estimate that the insects are capable of destroying at least 200 tonnes of vegetation per day.

  The FAO, in its locust situation update on January 6, had warned of “a low risk of breeding in Kenya”.

  The ravenous insect now threatens rice, wheat, miraa, coffee, tea and maize, affecting the livelihoods of millions of people.

  Treasury Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani has warned that the invasion by the migratory pests, the worst in 70 years, could significantly cut agricultural production leading to higher inflation and slowed economic activities.

  The Treasury has termed the invasion by desert locusts as a “systemic risk” that is likely to prevent the economy from attaining its medium-term growth.

  Kenya has experienced a major drought followed by several floods in the last two years, which have weakened its resilience.

  Economic growth has fallen from 6.4 percent in 2018 to 5.1 percent in 2019 and the Ministry of Finance states in its fiscal policy statement for the year 2020 that the recent invasion is a further threat to agricultural product

  “Locust invasion witnessed in the country in late 2019 and early 2020 poses a risk to agricultural production and food security,”says the Treasury in its recently released Budget Policy Statement.

  “(The locust invasion) could have a negative impact on agricultural output, leading to higher inflation that could slow down economic growth.” it added.

  Other risks to the Kenyan economy, the Treasury cited, included public spending pressures, particularly related to wage-related recurrent expenditures as well as climate change and variability which it notes “has enhanced the frequency of disaster such as landslides, droughts and destruction of physical infrastructure”.

  Control measures involve the use of planes and vehicles to carry out survey and control operations and use of pesticides with as little negative impact on the environment as possible.

  Other desperate measures have seen police shoot in the air and spray tear gas at the pests, while residents clap their hands, whistle and bang cans to try and chase away the thick clouds of locusts, but the insects continue to march.

  Kenya’s six spray planes were not enough and the government resorted to private aviation companies, such as Farmland Aviation, which specializes in fertilizer spraying, to help stop the invasion.

  Several Kenyan organizations concerned with Kenyan food safety issues point to the carcinogenic risk of products containing permethrin, carbendazim, and acephate, as well as their possible consequences on the human reproductive system. The Kenyan Agrochemicals Association, for its part, assured the country that tests on pesticides had proved them safe for humans, animals, and the environment.

  The Agriculture Ministry has said it will take at least six months to control locusts, highlighting a threat to food security as Kenya’s breadbasket regions prepare for main crop season starting March.

  Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya, speaking told the China Investment Magazine in the wake of reports indicating fresh invasions in Embu and Tana Riva, said more swarms of locusts were still arriving from Somalia and Yemen.

  Mr Munya have cited a lack of an effective chemical in the local market, adding that the fight against the insect has been slowed down by the with long procurement and import bureaucracies.

  “It will not be easy to fight these locusts and we anticipate the earliest that we can bring them under control is in the next six months,” said Mr Munya.

  It is estimated that $76 million (Sh7.6 billion) is needed urgently to widen efforts aimed at preventing further spread. The desert locusts which grow to be as long as a man's finger - breed rapidly. They fly in large groups in search of food.

  The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad,) an East African group, reports that locust swarms can carry 150 million locusts per square kilometer. It noted that “the swarms migrate with the wind and can cover between 100 and 150 kilometers in a day.”

  An average swarm can destroy enough food in a day that can feed 2,500 people, the group added. UN officials have warned that if the extreme invasions are not controlled, the number of locusts could grow 500 times by June.

  Even as administration of President Uhuru Kenyatta assures its citizens that the locusts will vanish soon, residents and leaders from across political divide have urged the government to gear up its cooperation of the economic powerhouse like China, US, UK among other in a bid to deal with the menace.

  In conclusion, it is vital that Kenya is prepared to face these challenges to minimize the impact of disasters on people and livelihoods. While resource allocations for disaster preparedness are increasing, the culture of preparedness in Kenya is lacking. There is no legal framework and no clear coordination across different types of disaster or across actors.

  It is clear, however, that other areas must be improved for disaster-prone Kenya to be well prepared. An important starting point would be to foster greater collaboration between the various actors working on preparedness.

  In a country with a broad range of risks faced by different people and at different times, there is a need to join up approaches and ensure shared earnings between actors.

  A multi-stakeholder approach that includes representatives from human and animal health, academia, beneficiaries and the media should also be adopted to promote the draft disaster risk management law, pushing for disaster preparedness to be enshrined in legislation.


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