Enhancing surveillance and data base key to winning war on locusts: Boga

The swarms of locusts being experienced in the country are reducing even as government grapples with COVID-19 disease and the torrential rainfall that is wreaking havoc in the country.

Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Principal Secretary Hamadi Boga says that  despite the two major challenges, reports have shown that the numbers of locusts are reducing and added that at one time Samburu County had over 400 swarms at its peak but now they have reduced to between  three  and six swarms.

“This is an indication that we are flattening the curve and together with the Food and Agriculture Authority (FAO) we are working on a strategy to engage local and international experts such as Tegemeo Institute to assess the damage so far caused by locusts in the 27 Counties affected.

FAO, World Bank and Counties, the PS Boga says, have mobilized adequate resources to fight the pests and said so far there are 90,000 litres of chemicals for spraying the locusts which is adequate to spray close to 200,000 hectares.

Prof  Boga who was speaking  during a Desert Locust  media field visit in Isiolo last week, explained  that so far the  Government  and other organizations under the strategy employed to contain the locusts, has mobilized Sh.2.4 billion noting that government has   contributed Sh39 million, African Development Bank (AfDB) Sh. 500 million and World Bank Sh.1.4 billion.

The cash is being spent on financing chemical procurement and maintaining six spraying aircrafts, vehicles and personnel among other equipment used for the same.

The partners, Prof. Boga noted  have so far deployed six spraying aircrafts –two from Kenya Army, three from FAO and one from Desert Locust Control Organization (DLCO) to deal with Counties where the pests are heavily concentrated  namely  Isiolo, Marsabit, Turkana, Samburu and some locations of Laikipia.

“We are also facing the challenge of the current weather as most of the areas are experiencing heavy rains making it difficult for the spraying aircrafts and ground teams over and above vast terrains,” he added.

Further Prof. Boga stated the activity is also facing the challenge of delayed procurement of the chemicals as some countries such as Japan where the chemicals are being sourced are also facing the challenge of spread of the COVID-19.

Albert Lemasulani, a resident and community leader in Isiolo County said the locusts have eaten up their vegetation thus affecting their livestock with some dying and prompting pastoralists to start migrating to other areas.

“There is also a likelihood of new locust generation being produced if they are not contained in good time since old locusts have left eggs.”

The pests Lemasulani said have also eaten food crops making the residents to move long distances looking for food which is complicated by low purchasing power. Even as livestock markets have closed down due to COVID-19 thus affecting the financial base of the pastoralists.

TiampatiLeleti a resident and village leader in Samburu County also said  since March this year, he has lost 80 goats and five cows and called on both National and County  government to compensate them.

“We fear that if the invasion of locusts continues, even human beings will suffer economically and socially. Our livestock are suffering from retarding growth after eating vegetation that has been affected by locust-hatched eggs,” Tiampati added.

Isiolo County Governor Mohamed Kuti said that since December when the locusts’ invasion was reported in the region from Yemen through Ethiopia and Somalia meaningful progress has been achieved.

He noted that the number of swarms that was initially being witnessed in December and January has reduced substantially.

“The fight against the migratory pests has created an opportunity for the unemployed youth in the region. We have engaged youth who are assisting us to trace the whereabouts of the locust and thus enable us to actively fight the pests,” Governor Kuti said.

Governor Kuti further said that technology coupled with intensive surveillance has served well with the youth now being trained and able to relay information to the control centre that is located at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.

Assistant FAO Representative (Programmes), Hamisi Williams said in order for the fight against locusts to be sustained, both on ground and in air spraying, they have trained youth and deployed them on the ground to help in tracing the location of the locusts.  Also they trained masters of trainers, two in every county who will in turn train other people in their localities.

“In Garissa county 25 youth  have been trained, 50 in Mandera, 90 in Isiolo to serve in Laikipia and Baringo counties and a further  75 youth are undergoing training  in Samburu County and more in Turkana”, he said.

The youth, Hamisi explained have been  equipped with smart phones with an application e-locust, they have also established six bases, Kilimo house, Isiolo, Garissa, Wajir, Lodwar and Marsabit and the  information received from them is shared to all the stakeholders locally and international mainly FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy.

FAO has put in place a locust control centre at the Lewa Conservancy to convey data that is being collected from the locust infested areas and all the ground teams have been trained to use the E-locust 3M App.

Heath McRae, a desert locust specialist in charge of the locust control centre in Lewa says they have been using an e-locust system to collect data from the ground team and convey it to the aerial spray team to know the exact areas to target.

“It’s an easy app to use. One is required to go to the e-locust 3M platform, log in and provide information. Once you tap send, that info is picked at 51D in Lewa and same information is picked at the information centre in Kilimo House,” said McRae.

The technology that is being used by FAO to track the pests has seen them collaborate with an organization known as Plant Village and together with counties engaged 900 youth by facilitating them with motor bikes to help in identifying and report about the whereabouts of the locusts.

Hamisi explained that the locust invasion is the worst the region has experienced for the last 70 years saying initially when locusts were reported in the region, national government and counties were not well prepared thus led to spread of the migratory pests.

As FAO, Hamisi said that they were in the process of adding more aircrafts and also procure other sophisticated gadgets to help in identifying the locust.

“Initially spraying is being carried out in all the areas but going forward spraying will only be done where the swarms are located.  In security prone areas like Suguta and Baragoi, we are collaborating with local communities as well as security authorities to make the exercise fruitful”, he said.

Hamisi noted that they expect that in the next one and half months, locust swarms will subside, a situation being dictated by winds.

“Currently winds are blowing from east and south, a situation likely to move the swarms to the neighbouring countries like Sudan and Uganda.”

Tyson Lengoros a youth under the plant village group said “I graduated from Mt. Kenya University last December.  I and other youth were engaged by FAO to help in tracing the locusts.  I have been facilitated to track the locusts through surveillance. We are enabled through motorbikes and we work from our own areas. Once we trace the locust swarms, we report to the disaster management unit base at Isiolo County”.

Since the invasions of locusts in December last year, the government has been doing everything to ensure the desert locusts do not escalate to a plague. The normal breeding season for desert locusts is from January to March. FAO, together with the government of Kenya, has put together a six-month action plan, while monitoring the situation.


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