Panic in Kilifi as desert locust swarms invade farms

Written By: KNA

A section of farmers at Canan in a farm in Voi sub county where swarms of locusts were sighted a fortnight ago.

Millions of swams of locusts have invaded farms in Kilifi County.

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Reports indicate that five sub counties including Magarini, Malindi, Ganze, Kaloleni, and Kilifi South have been affected.

While confirming the invasion of the pest Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi  urged area residents not to scare away or eat the desert locusts saying the move could spread them further.

The county chief has at the same time urged residents not to panic saying the situation was under control.

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Kilifi County government has  dispatched five teams to all the 35 wards for surveillance with the intention of  planning how to deal with them.

Kilifi Agriculture and Livestock Chief Officer Fredrick Kaingu who was in one of the surveillance teams said the kind of locusts that have invaded the county are highly migratory hence the need to come up with first ways of eliminating them.

On Friday, Conservation experts called for continued vigilance to avert a potential ecological disaster after desert locusts that had invaded farms in Taita-Taveta County migrated into the vast Tsavo National Park where they are feared to be roosting.

Tsavo National Park is said to have optimum conditions required by egg-laying swarms to enable a near 100 per cent hatch-rate, which might lead to millions of nymphs and hoppers being released to the environment within the next one month in a destructive frenzy.

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Speaking to KNA on Friday, Mr. John Mlamba, a veteran environmentalist, noted that the expansive national park offered a conducive environment for locusts to breed with minimal disruption from human activities owing to the protected status of Tsavo.

“It’s a worrying situation. The current climate and soils are perfect for locust breeding.  If you factor in the abundance of foliage to the mix, the locusts will have everything they require for survival and multiplication,” he said.

Sandy soil, warm temperatures, moistness and non-interference from human activities are some of the conditions required by locusts to thrive.

The County has however moved to assure the residents that the swarms are no threat to the local farms. County Executive Committee Member for Agriculture Mr. Davis Mwangoma said the swarms sighted two weeks ago were handled and contained by locust-experts from National Locust Control Center and county government.

The hand-spraying exercise was done a week ago inside Tsavo East National Park. The manual spraying is said to have been preferred as a way of minimizing the risk of large-scale destabilization of the delicate ecosystem that comes with aerial spraying through introduction of foreign chemical elements into the park.

Mr. Mwangoma disclosed that even the scattered swarms sighted in far-flung Eldoro farms near the Kenya-Tanzania border had effectively been contained.

“For now, everything is under control because we managed to contain the swarms,” he said.

Despite such assurance, an element of unease lingers on. The unease is largely attributed to a possibility that some swarms might have roosted in unknown sections that were not sprayed. In case of such an eventuality, the eggs will hatch and usher in a second phase of locust invasion driven by ravenous nymphs and hoppers that are considered most destructive.

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Mr. Mwangoma said the county was prepared for such a scenario.

“We are actively monitoring all areas where the swarms were spotted. We have stockpiled enough chemicals to deal with such an eventuality should it arise,” he assured the farmers.

The first locust sighting was reported in mid-November at Ngolia area in Voi sub-county. Later, more sightings were reported in Manoa in Mwatate sub-county, Eldoro in Taveta and Paranga in Wundanyi.

The National Locust Control Center (NLCC) deployed a chopper to the region for a reconnaissance survey to monitor and assess the extent of the spread of the swarms. Data from the exercise would be used to map out areas where strategic spraying of chemicals to kill the swarms would be done.

Locusts in a farm at Canan area in Voi sub-county

Colonel (rtd) Julius Ngera, head of NLCC, said the swarms had turned yellow; an indicator that they were at copulating stage in readiness for laying eggs.

Mr. Mlamba, who is also the Director of Management of Arid Zones and Initiative Development Options (MAZIDO), warned that if the roosting swarms hatched inside the park, the effects would be felt outside. He explained that the swarms might devastate the park vegetation forcing the wild animals to stray into human settlement areas in search of pasture and thereby increasing human-wildlife conflict.

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“If they hatch and eat pasture in the park, the wild animals will come out and we might experience a spike in conflicts between humans and wildlife,” he noted.

The angst over the locust have also gripped the ranchers in the region. With over 1.4 million acres of rangeland, the expansive rangelands are a prime target for locusts’ insatiable appetite.

Mr. Bongosa Mcharo, chair of Taita-Taveta Wildlife Conservancies Association (TTWCA) said the current locust invasion remained unsettling especially in the wake of a series of destructive fire incidents that decimated large areas of grass from ranches.

He said that a few ranches including Choke, Kasighau, Taita, Luarenyi and Mgeno Ranch had reported some elements of locust sightings.

“We don’t have the capacity like the national and county governments, and we rely heavily on them to contain this menace,” he said. Individual ranches are engaged in surveillance to monitor the presence of locusts and report if found.

The success of the containment efforts by the county and NLCC is currently impossible to attest to until late December when the eggs, if present, are estimated to have hatched. In the meantime, the farmers, conservationists and ranchers are just holding their breath hoping this lure is not that deceptive calm that precedes a severe storm.

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