Aerial spraying of desert locusts that have invaded Isiolo and Meru counties began in Kipsing and Kachiuru yesterday.
The spraying was to begin on Saturday morning, but was delayed since the 940 litres of pesticides delivered earlier by the government were for hand pumps.
Officials had to reorder chemicals that were delivered later that evening.
Isiolo County Agriculture and Livestock chief officer Salad Jillo said two planes — one provided by the government and another from Farmland Aviation — did not spray Malkagalla since locals provided erroneous information during the mapping of the area.
“We sprayed Kipsing on the border with Laikipia County and Kachiuru in Meru. There were no locusts in Malkagalla despite resident saying the insects invaded the area,” Mr Jillo, who chairs the locust coordination team for Isiolo, Laikipia and Samburu counties said.
By Saturday evening, the pests had covered 3,150 square kilometres in Garba Tulla and Merti sub-counties.
Garba Tulla was worst hit, with 3,000 square kilometres of its land invaded.
Laikipia Agriculture Executive Lucy Murugi said officers in the department have been put on alert and directed to promptly report the landing of the insects.
She said the department has formed a locust coordination team to deal with the emergency.
“A team from Farmland Aviation has been contracted and is on site ready to begin spraying along the Laikipia-Isiolo-Samburu counties boundaries,” Dr Murugi said.
“We have increased surveillance across the county and on our the borders with our neighbours because swarms in Isiolo and Samburu are reportedly flying south.”
Laikipia North MP Sarah Lekorere said the locust invasion poses a food security risk.
Addressing journalists in her constituency yesterday, Ms Lekorere said a crisis looms in the region if herders are not helped to eradicate the insects.
“As pastoralists, we foresee disaster because pastures will be destroyed by the swarms. I call on Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri to send spraying teams to Laikipia,” she said.
At the same time, experts have called on the government to move fast and contain the invasion before it becomes a nationwide disaster.
Dr George Ongamo, an insect science expert who coordinates the desert locust management team at the Entomological Society of Kenya, said authorities have to urgently deal with the swarms that entered the country last December 22.
“Following an earlier alert on desert locusts in Ethiopia and Somalia, there was a possibility that they could cross the border into the country. Now that they are here, we must deal with the reality,” Dr Ongamo said in Nairobi yesterday.
The swarms have so far invaded Wajir, Marsabit, Isiolo and Meru counties.
Among the measures so far proposed to destroy the swarms is aerial spraying and eating the insects.
Nutritionists say locusts are a rich source of proteins.
Aerial spraying has already begun in some counties.
The University of Nairobi don said locusts are fast breeders and asked the government to focus its efforts on ensuring the population of the destructive insects does not increase.
“The insects that have been reported in Kenya could be mating and breeding. The government should work with devolved units to identify possible breeding sites and ensure that the eggs laid do not hatch,” he said.
Dr Ongamo said locusts breed in damp and wet areas, adding that the teams formed should concentrate on such sites.
“The damp areas allow female locusts to insert their abdomens and lay their eggs,” he said.
Locust expert and researcher Christiaan Kooyman said the species that has invaded Kenya is known as Schistocerca gregaria.
Locusts are biologically similar to grasshoppers but they have the ability to get together as swarms and cover up to 150 kilometres per day.
By Aggrey Omboki, Waweru Wairimu and James Murimi