The invasion of north eastern Kenya by swarms of desert locusts portends a catastrophe, with about 10 MPs from the arid region appealing to the national government for urgent intervention before it is too late.
The lawmakers, led by Mr Aden Keynan (Eldas) and Mandera Senator Maalim Mohamed, while speaking at Parliament Buildings, warned that unless the government takes critical measures to address the issue, residents will have nowhere to get food, nor will they be able to feed their animals.
Counties of Mandera, Wajir and Garissa bore the brunt of the invasion, which threatens the livelihoods of people and animals.
“We are appealing to the government to intervene and provide aerial sprays using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs),” said Mr Keynan.
“We have seen drought and torrential rains kill our people and animals and now we have locusts. The government, through the ministries of Defence, Agriculture and Devolution, among other agencies, should come to the rescue of residents of northern Kenya,” he said.
Reports from Wajir’s agricultural department indicate that the flying pests got into the county via Bute and Gurar in Wajir North and are currently within the hills about 7km from Bute town.
Mr Hassan Gure, an official from the agriculture department, said that a team had been dispatched to the area to repel the pests.
Mr Gure said that the current colony had been repelled from Mandera back to Ethiopia a few days ago but made its way back into the country via the Ethiopian side. The first batch of desert locusts entered the county on Sunday before settling in Kutulo.
The pests then migrated to other parts, including Wargadud area, Qajaja and Qajaja 2 and other surrounding areas, leaving a trail of destruction of vegetation.
The swarms were then repelled to Griftu in Wajir West sub-county before they moved to Qara and Arbajahan areas, then finally to the Wajir-Marsabit border where the insects crossed into Marsabit County.
Mr Gure said that the first army of locusts had been eliminated, but there was still a possibility of other swarms currently in Mandera crossing over into the county.
The official said that the desert locusts, which have covered over 175km since they entered the county, had consumed about 10 per cent of the vegetation in the entire area.
All the six constituencies in Mandera have been invaded by the deadly insects, further spreading to Tarbaj, Wajir East and Wajir West constituencies in Wajir County and parts of the neighbouring Garissa County.
According to Mr Mohamed, the Mandera Senator, the government needs to do all it can or risk having the locusts spread to other parts of the country.
“The main source of livelihood in these affected areas is livestock and the destructive nature of these pests cannot be ignored. They destroy vegetation enough to feed about 25 camels in a day.
They could wipe out the country’s vegetation cover in six months,” the senator said.
According to Mr Keynan, UAVs, known as drones, could also be used to collect data and high resolution images of green, vegetated areas potentially affected by the locusts.
The locusts are a collection of certain species of short-horned grasshoppers.
They are usually solitary but, under certain climatic circumstances, they become more abundant and aggressive, forming voracious swarms.
The rapid vegetation growth caused by El Nino- like rains in the recent past has become the best suitable climatic condition for the pests to breed rapidly, becoming destructive and migratory when their population becomes dense enough.
The locusts can live for up to between three and six months and up to 10 months with a favourable environment.
The legislators also accused the government of approaching the issue casually despite early warning signs.
“A global early warning and preventive control system against the desert locust has been in place for more than half a century, representing the world's oldest migratory pest warning system,” Mr Keynan said.
Early in December 2018, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) had warned that the desert locust invasion, which had hit Ethiopia and Somalia, would spread to other Eastern Africa nations, including Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya and South Sudan if early and sustained measures were not taken.
According to the FAO, tens of thousands of hectares of land are being destroyed by the desert locusts in Somalia, in what has been termed the worst invasion in 25 years.
Reports from the organisation indicate the locusts have damaged about 70,000 hectares of farmland in Somalia and eastern Ethiopia and are threatening food security.
The FAO notes that locust invasion is swift and incredibly destructive.
They are a major global pest, threatening the agricultural industry and affecting the livelihoods of one tenth of the world's population who occupy about 20 per cent of the land on earth.
A swarm can contain up to 150 million insects per square kilometre and they can migrate for up to about 130 kilometres in a day.
The FAO estimates that 500,000 locusts can weigh about one tonne, eating as much as 10 elephants or 25 camels or 2,500 people.
But even as the legislators call in the government, biological locust control measures could just be the antidote as the chemicals used to kill the insects have other harmful effects.
Natural predators such as wasps, birds and reptiles may be the solution to dealing with the locust menace.