Munya: Locusts not a disaster, we’ve got them under control

Wednesday March 18 2020
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Agriculture CS Peter Munya. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By BRIAN AMBANI

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya has once again dismissed calls to declare the locust invasion a national disaster, saying that the government has the situation under control.

Addressing journalists after a strategy meeting with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Mr Munya said there was no need to panic even as the government enters the second phase of control measures against the invasion.

“We have not yet reached a stage of declaring a national disaster. This is an extreme measure usually taken to attract funding to deal with a particular problem and we already have this funding,” he said.

He said the government has brought on board partners including the World Bank, Germany, the EU, the US and the Africa Development Bank.

“The government has also mobilised its own resources and we will deploy more as we acquire them,” he said.

Mr Munya assured the public that the plan to contain the pests by June is on course but total eradication will take longer. The government has acquired more aircraft and other equipment to help in spraying pesticides in locust-infested areas, bringing the total number of planes to 20.

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The CS said the country is food-secure despite the Strategic Food Reserve’s warning of a possible shortage even as locusts ravage parts of the Rift Valley, the country’s food basket. He said the government will import food if the need arises.

Council of Governors Agriculture Committee chairman Muthomi Njoki (Tharaka-Nithi) hailed the cooperation between the national and county governments in dealing with the locusts and urged leaders at all levels to educate communities on how control locust nymphs to prevent their spread.

He urged the national government to work with neighbouring countries.

“The government should intervene outside its borders because even if the locusts are eradicated within the country and neighbouring countries are not doing the same, we will only be waiting for new swarms to arrive,” said Mr Njoki.

“Collaborating with neighbouring countries to eliminate the locusts at the source will be the best solution, ensuring that we finish the locusts as a region to prevent a vicious cycle,” he added.

FAO has said the desert locusts originated from the Arabian Peninsula, especially Yemen, as tropical cyclones in the area led to their migration westwards to the Horn of Africa and eventually into East Africa.

The organisation noted that the invasion hit Kenya by surprise as the country had not experienced one in over 70 years, compared with her northern neighbour Ethiopia, which faces invasions more frequently and has stronger support systems and infrastructure against them.

The swarms travel with the wind over 200 kilometres per day and are predicted to increase in the coming days and weeks as they opportunistically move to areas with food and suitable breeding grounds.

FAO has warned that the locusts are difficult to predict and their best breeding conditions are optimum temperatures of around 19 to 25 degrees Celsius, with their eggs hatching in two weeks.

The organisation launched the eLocust3 digital platform that it uses to track locusts to bring them under control before they do more damage and is planning to train more people on how to use the app.

FAO representative in Kenya Tobias Takavarasha said they are collaborating with their other regional offices to prevent the spread and breeding of the locusts.

He also lauded other UN agencies like Unicef for extending resources to help fight the insects.

“FAO put the estimated amount of money needed to fight locusts in the region at $135 million (Sh14 billion). We have so far received $100 million (Sh10 billion) and it is this money that is divided among the affected countries in the region to provide support,” he said.

Phase three of Kenya’s campaign against locusts will focus on preventing young locusts from maturing into adult swarms.