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Flight bans derail efforts to contain desert locusts as pesticides run out

Monday March 23 2020

Kiplekwa

A local in Kiplekwa village, Baringo Central chases away a swarm of desert locusts that have invaded the area on February 23, 2019. PHOTO | FLORAH KOECH | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

JULIUS SIGEI
By JULIUS SIGEI
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ISAIAH ESIPISU
By ISAIAH ESIPISU
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A pesticide shortage is threatening to derail the government’s efforts to contain the desert locust invasion.

This comes in the wake of flight cancellations over fears of a possible spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus disease that has occasioned a global lockdown.

Agriculture Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga said it was now difficult to import chemicals for aerial spraying to kill the locusts.

“There are challenges in importing chemicals arising from the cancellation of the flights. Importers are experiencing delays,” said Prof Boga.

“This further complicates other challenges because we have inadequate control equipment and surveillance and spraying aircraft.

“This is on top of other logistical challenges for surveillance and distribution of control equipment and pesticides,” Prof Boga added in the status report.

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The PS, however, said there were enough pesticides for ground spraying.

COMBAT PESTS

Various activities lined up to combat the pests that entered the country last December and have so far decimated pastures and crops in more than 20 counties could be in jeopardy.

The stringent measures that have been put in place to control the spread of Covid-19 pandemic that has so far killed more than 9,000 people worldwide, while potentially safeguarding lives, have wreaked havoc on supply chains globally.

For instance, a government ban on social gatherings will likely put paid to efforts to train agricultural extension officers on locust surveillance.

“Thirty ‘masters of trainers’ were to be trained in Isiolo from March 23 to April 3, who would thereafter each train 30 field operation teams within their respective counties,” says the report.

However, the new rules curtailing social gatherings will stop the trainings even as the locusts march on and experts warn that the invasion could have a devastating impact on food security in the coming season.

FOOD SECURITY

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the locust invasion situation remains extremely alarming in the Horn of Africa, especially in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia where widespread breeding is in progress and new swarms are starting to form, representing an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the coming weeks.

“Hopper bands continue to develop and form an increasing number of first-generation immature swarms in northern and central counties,” the FAO reported in a statement last week Tuesday.

“Further concentrations are expected in Marsabit and Turkana,” the statement further warned.

This time round, experts warn that the impact is likely to be felt even more because farmers will have crops on their farms.

RAPID SPREAD

“The new generation swarms will coincide with the planting season in the East African region, which normally starts at the end of March and early April,” FAO Senior Agricultural Officer, Plant Production and Protection Division Keith Cressman said.

Scientists have pointed out that the locust invasions across the world were triggered by changes in climatic conditions.

With the rapid spread of the new coronavirus across the world making it difficult to control the locusts, the situation has become much more difficult for the affected countries.

In Kenya, more than 20 counties among them Mandera, Wajir, Samburu, Isiolo, Garissa, Baringo, Turkana, Laikipia, Meru, Kitui, Embu, Machakos, Murang’a, Makueni and Kajiado, have been infested by the locusts.