The loud clang of stones against frying pans, the honking horns and chants from locals in Marsabit bore no fruits. At least not now.
Annoying as the invasion of locusts is to villagers in Samburu, Marsabit and Isiolo, the plague threatens the country’s food security.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has raised the alarm, saying that the invasion is the worst in 25 years and threatens pastures and crops on both sides of the Red Sea and could spread to Uganda and South Sudan.
“There remains a high risk that an additional swarm will arrive in the northeast from adjacent Ethiopia and Somalia,” FAO said in its Desert Locusts bulletin.
The already threatening situation will be exacerbated by limited operational capacities in Somalia and heavy rains and floods from cyclone Pawan that, which will likely allow at least one to two more generations of breeding, causing a substantial increase in locusts over the next six months, warned the bulletin.
FAO warned that the current situation remains “extremely serious” in the Horn of Africa.
The international body estimated the cost of eliminating locusts at more than Sh40 billion in one invasion.
It also estimated harvest losses at more than Sh200 billion, posing a disastrous effect on Africa’s food security.
Desert Locusts Control Organisation for Eastern Africa (DLCO) states that save for accidental deaths, the insects live for up to 10 months.
“Desert locusts damage a wide variety of wild and cultivated crops and consume about their own weight of fresh vegetation each day. Half a million locusts each weighing two grammes will eat about one tonne of vegetation each day. This amount is enough to feed about 2,500 people,” DLCO states on its website.
If the projection by FAO is anything to go by, interventions by the government to aerially spray the locusts in parts of Wajir county may be in vain — just as the shouting, honking of vehicles, striking metallic objects and whistling by the locals proved ineffective.
The first phase of the spraying was carried out in Wajir South with Hassan Gure, an official at the county department of agriculture, exuding hope that the locust population would drastically reduce.
The government acquired at least 3,000 litres of chemicals used for aerial spraying of the swarms.
Government Spokesman Cyrus Oguna asked locals in Wajir to stay away from areas where the chemicals were being sprayed as they could have devastating health effects.
The government was however not clear on whether the locals and their livestock could still feed on vegetation in the area.
The aerial spray of chemicals in Wajir and Mandera counties is estimated to cost the government at least Sh300 million.
The process will be replicated in Isiolo and Marsabit and probably Meru County. The exercise requires at least 77 motorised sprayers, 200 ultra-low volume sprayers, 300 sets of protective gear, chemicals, water – which is a rare commodity in the arid counties – 5,000 litres of fuel and vehicles to be used in ground surveillance, among others.
Still, entomologists say controlling locusts is best done at the hopper stage, the stage after eggs mature, before they become adults.
The eggs hatch in about two weeks, hoppers develop in five to six stages over a period of about 30-40 days, and adults mature in two to four months
“The best way to control them is by close monitoring and getting rid of them at the hopper stage because once they are adults, they are hard to control. They have capacity to migrate really fast,” Prof Alice Kamau, the Director of African Institute for Capacity Development (AICAD) said.
She said scientists, especially those working for DLCO, can tell the best time to control the pests.
DN body text: “The population is at great risk from chemicals now, more than if the control was made at the hopper stage,” she said, adding that the insects pose no direct risk to human health. Although killing them may be the immediate intervention, Desert Locust Information Service (DLIS), a branch of the FAO that monitors the global locust situation and issues forecasts and warnings, suggests that they can be eaten.
“Immature and mature adults are high in protein and edible in different ways,” it says. A locust delicacy called Tinjiya or Sikonyane is common among the Tswana and the Swazi people of southern Africa.
A research by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and the United States Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS) in 2015 stated that eating desert locusts could be good for the heart.
The researchers showed that the insect contains a rich composition of compounds known as sterols which have cholesterol-lowering properties, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease.