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Locust hatchlings pose threat to crops

Wednesday March 18 2020
Locusts

Desert locusts are pictured in Gurar, Wajir North, on January 16, 2020. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By PAULINE KAIRU

The desert locusts that have invaded Kenyan farms for the past two months are now a cause for renewed worry as new swarms begin to hatch.

In what is emerging as a new cycle of infestation, experts say significant numbers of hatchlings have been spotted along migratory paths that had already suffered a first round of incursion.

The eggs are expected to continue hatching up to April as forecast by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, giving way to a second round of invasion.

But what worries experts is that Kenya’s planting season will begin in about two weeks. The newly hatched locusts pose serious risks to the upcoming crop season.

The Intergovernmental Authority for Development (Igad) has warned of an impending crisis in East Africa — the region most affected by the locust menace.

“Under a worse-case scenario, the desert locusts will invade key production areas and breadbaskets of the region and cause significant crop losses during the March to May cropping season, and could potentially worsen the food security situation,” Igad said in a statement,

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The Food Security and Nutrition Working Group said in its recent report on desert locusts that the “most affected areas are currently in crisis or stressed mode as far as food insecurity is concerned … 9.75 million people living in parts of the affected areas including Kenya are currently or projected to be in a food crisis or worse”. Agricultural CS Peter Munya told the Senate on Wednesday that the locusts might have a negative impact on food security.

He said that Sh230 million released by the Treasury towards the fight against the scourge was nearly depleted.

The Desert Locust Control Organisation for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA), a regional organisation charged with monitoring the pest, told the Saturday Nation that the northeast’s warm climate and sandy soils are ideal for locust breeding.

When they invaded Kenya from Ethiopia and Somalia on December 28, the locusts were in their immature stage. They have since matured and been reported in 21 counties. The Agriculture ministry told the Saturday Nation that the pests are now present in 18 counties.

“The laid eggs have now begun to hatch in some parts of the country and this will continue for some time,” DLCO-EA chief information officer Mehari Tesfayohannes said in a phone interview.

“By mid-March, if they’re not controlled, another swarm will be flying around and causing mayhem in the affected regions, especially those that plant crops,” he said.

 “This is when crops will be germinating. And then the eggs that were laid later will also be hatching and the cycle will continue. With the right winds the swarm could move to the cropped regions once they mature — that is when they are most destructive,” he said.

It takes between six and eight weeks for hatched eggs to mature into adult locusts.

 Mr David Mwangi, the head of the Plants Protection Service Division at the Agriculture ministry, said the eggs were hatching in Marsabit, Samburu, Isiolo, Garissa, Tharaka-Nithi and Kitui counties.

“We have seen quite a bit of hatching in Marsabit. We are concentrating on those areas so that they are not able to fly,” he said.

Mr Munya said the government had contracted FAO to manage a team of experts who will carry out an impact assessment on the damage caused by the locusts on crops. The inspections start next week.

“They will quantify the damage that has occurred on farms as a result of the locusts and give us results,” he said.

But county executives from affected areas are urging the government to declare the invasion a national disaster so as to draw in speedy action and additional funding from the Treasury and external donors. Kenya has sprayed over 20,000 hectares of land. The government projects that the locusts could be contained by June.

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