Daisy Ndegi, a farmer in Mbeere South, Embu County, strolls around her maize farm checking the drying crops that are seemingly ready for harvest.
But for each cob she opens up, disappointment greets her and this is because of desert locusts that had invaded the area the previous week.
“I had thought my maize would survive the locusts’ incursion because they came when the leaves were dry but I was wrong,” says the 37-year-old.
A cob she opens up shows that the maize is decaying, some of the seeds are brown, others yellow. “This is because of the acidic sap from the insects,” she notes.
This is the story of farmers in different parts of the country that were invaded by the insects, including Mandera, Isiolo, Kitui and Tharaka-Nithi.
Daisy recalls that for years, the region has not had rain and when it finally came last October, many farmers rushed to plant various crops.
‘The crops thrived because of the heavy rains but the locusts came just when some of us were readying to harvest and nibbled away at our investment,” says Ndegi, a mother of three.
Daisy and her husband, Lawrence Mwagire, 40, say besides maize, they had planted green grams, cow peas, beans, millets and khat. Most of these crops have now been destroyed by locusts.
“We had invested in quality seeds. They had bought cowpeas seeds at Sh2,000, green grams at Sh4,800 and maize at Sh1,200. We had a target of harvesting four sacks of 70kg each of cow peas. Each goes for Sh150 per kilo,” says Mwagire.
For the green grams, the couple had targeted some eight 70kg bags, with each kilo going for Sh200 while for maize, they were to harvest five bags of 90kg each.
“We cannot get even a quarter of the produce we had targeted because of the locusts,” says Daisy, noting this is the predicament of nearly every farmer whose crops were ravaged by locusts.
ENSURE THEY ARE ELIMINATED
The couple says a dense cloud announced the arrival of the ravenous insects in the area that is some 45km from Embu town.
They darkened the skies as they moved in great speed occupying every farm and feeding on every plant.
Daisy says she will now find it harder to pay school fees for her children. “We had hoped to use the farm’s proceeds to educate our children, but now this is just an illusion, my cows have no fodder as the maize and other fodder crops were destroyed,” Daisy says.
Martin Njeru, a farmer in the county, says the insects consumed everything in their path and efforts to curb them through shouting, drumming metal objects or smoking bore no fruit.
“They consumed our miraa, maize, green grams and vegetables,” he says, adding warmer temperatures created a conducive environment for the pests to thrive.
Jason Kariuki Njiru, 40, a farmer in Mbeere south, says he is recovering from massive losses that he puts at over Sh50,000. “I have nothing to show for all my maize, green grams and cowpeas.”
Interestingly, some farmers managed to protect their miraa and muguka farms using rudimentary means before the county government stepped in.
They deployed family members on the farms, asking them to beat sufurias, shout and smoke the locusts out. Miraa is cherished in the region for its high income.
Dr Jamleck Muturi, Embu Agriculture executive, says the county is working with all sector players to ensure the insects are eliminated.
“We are using ward agricultural officers in monitoring the fields and assessing the damage and guide the county in making decisions. Though the locust came back on February 8 in the evening, spraying was done aptly by Monday morning,” he says.
In Tharaka-Nithi, Mugwika Mukinda says his farm had green grams, the main crop in the county, millet and cowpeas, all of which the locusts feasted on
He approximates his losses at over Sh80,000, having spent lots of money on land preparation, inputs and labour.
“I spent between Sh18, 000 and Sh20, 000 on ploughing and purchasing farm inputs such as fertiliser and spraying the crops against pests and diseases,” says the farmer, who hired eight casuals. “They have destroyed everything,” he adds.
In Nyeri, the Department of Agriculture says it is on high alert after the insects were sighted in Kieni, Othaya, Tetu and Mathira sub-county.
Agriculture executive James Wachihi says they were first spotted in Mugunda ward and Naromoru in Kieni, which is the food basket of the county before spreading to Ruguru ward in Mathira East, Dedan Kimathi in Tetu and Mahiga and Iria-ini in Othaya constituency.
According to the official, affected wards have recorded minimal damage as the swarm flew over the county to the forest.
“We have trained 240 staff in readiness for possible mass invasion,” says Wachihi.
He further stated that one of the reasons the insects flew past Nyeri is due to the damp and cold weather, where they cannot thrive.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation terms the invasion in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia as the worst outbreak of desert locusts in 70 years.
“In Kenya, immature swarms are moving through northern and central areas and have so far invaded 13 counties.
Some swarms have started to lay eggs that will hatch in early February and new swarms are expected to form in early April,” said Keith Cressman, Senior Locust Forecasting Officer at FAO.
The institution says it requires $70 million (Sh7 billion) to support rapid control operations and measures to protect livelihoods and prevent a deterioration of the food security situation.