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Alarm as locusts invade northern Kenya

Monday December 30 2019

Swarm of locusts in Wajir

A combination picture of a swarm of locusts and children trying to get rid of them in Kutulo, Wajir County, on December 29, 2019. PHOTOS | BRUHAN MAKONG | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

BRUHAN MAKONG
By BRUHAN MAKONG
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Residents of Wajir and Mandera counties have raised the alarm after swarms of desert locusts invaded parts of northern Kenya from neighbouring countries on Sunday.

The residents, who rely on pastoralism, are now worried about their livelihoods as millions of the destructive pests threaten to wipe out vast grasslands.

Early this month, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned that desert locusts, which had hit Ethiopia and Somalia, would spread to other Eastern Africa countries including Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya and South Sudan if early and sustained measures were not taken.

In some parts of Ethiopia, farmers reported that the flying pests had decimated nearly 100 per cent of their crops.

According to residents, the locusts entered Kenya from the eastern side of Somalia and settled in Kotulo area, Wajir County.

Information from Wajir County Department of Agriculture indicates that they moved for close to two hours in the area before settling eight-10 kilometers away from Kutulo town, which sits on the border of Wajir and Mandera.

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In an interview with the Nation, Hassan Gure -- an official from the agricultural department -- said the locusts cleared the area of all vegetation from the ground to the trees.

He said that about 15-30 kilometres of the entire area visited by residents this morning had been cleared of vegetation.

"All the grass, shrubs and tree leaves have been wiped out by the locusts," he said.

SHOUTING, HOOTING

He added that a section of residents had been dispatched to the area to get rid of the pests by use of localised methods including shouting, hooting vehicles and striking metal objects to scare them away.

He said that residents had also resorted to reading of the Koran to clear the area of the pests.

"For now, we are using what we have at our disposal but a more efficient method needs to be put in place, including use of aerial spraying," he said.

According to reports on the ground, another swarm of locusts was reported to have crossed into the country from Ethiopia two days ago before settling in Elwak-Somalia but was successfully repelled by residents before migrating to the south along the border of Kenya and Somalia.

The third batch is said to be migrating from Mandera North and has moved past river Daawa and settled in Dhaamdintu area.

WORST INVASION

According to FAO, tens of thousands of hectares of land are being destroyed in what has been termed the worst invasion in 25 years.

FAO indicated that locusts have damaged about 70,000 hectares of farmland in Somalia and eastern Ethiopia, threatening food security in the countries.

Reports say that a section of residents in Somalia have resorted to eating the locusts as they battle their spread.

A desert locust can consume roughly its own weight in fresh food per day, about two grammes' worth.

FAO categorises the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) as a dangerous migratory pest capable of flying up to 150 kilometres a day, assisted by wind.

A 1 km² size swarm contains about 40 million locusts, which eat the same amount of food in one day as about 35,000 people, 20 camels or six elephants.

Solitary desert locust adults fly at night and swarms fly during the day.