Desert locusts ground surveillance intensified in Kenya

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) today began training 300 National Youth Service (NYS) trainees at as part of its action plan aimed at boosting the Government of Kenya’s (GoK) ground surveillance on desert locusts. An additional 300 trainees will participate in future capacity buildings exercises at the NYS college, bringing the total number of monitors added to the governments’ teams to 600.

In desert locust campaigns, ground monitoring teams conduct extensive surveys of terrain, collecting information on the state of the habitat and locust populations. This information is used for planning antilocust controls and making decisions regarding preventive treatments. Since December, desert locusts streamed in Kenya from the north, with new swarms reported to be coming from Somalia and Ethiopia. Currently, there are 17 counties with desert locust infestation in the country.

“The desert locust upsurge is a direct attack to FAO’s mandate to eradicate hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition. Our current concern is that the first-generation swarms that came in from Ethiopia and Somalia are breeding, and by the time the eggs hatch, it will be planting season with early germination of crops. The hopper bands are the most voracious feeders in the lifecycle of desert locusts, and that is why we are increasing ground control,” said Tobias Takavarasha, FAO Representative ad interim to Kenya.

FAO brings technical expertise in assisting with the current crisis, and to augment the Government of Kenya’s efforts, surged in an expert from Morocco to lead the training. Speaking during the launch, the Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries said that the Government is doing everything to ensure that the Desert Locusts do not escalate to a plague level.

“Right now, if we do not increase ground surveillance and get the locusts when they are still hopper bands, and if we allow then to mature and breed, every new generation will increase 20 times in number. This is why we think NYS trainees would be excellent for this operation,” said Kello Harsame, the Secretary for Administration, who was speaking for the Cabinet Secretary for Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. “National Youth Service trainees are always ready to serve. After this training, they will be deployed to various stations to start spraying the hopper bands,’ said the NYS deputy Director Mr. Enock Amdavi.

As reported by technical experts, there have been sightings of newly hatched hopper bands in some parts of Eastern and Northern Kenya. 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.

Threat to food security

A swarm of 1 square kilometer can eat the same amount of food of 35 000 people in one day. Already 3.1 million Kenyans are projected to be highly food insecure between August and October 2019. Agropastoral communities in the North are particularly vulnerable and are just recovering from a long drought, followed by floods. So far, approximately 70 000 hectares of land have already been infested.   

Role of climate change

Climate change has played a big role in creating a conducive environment for desert locusts to thrive. Last year, Kenya experienced a lot of rain, with a number of flooding in the last quarter of the year. This made the sandy soil in Arid and Semi-arid (ASAL) areas moist, which is perfect condition for the female migratory pests to lay their eggs. In the last three years, there was an increase in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean that played a role in breeding this upsurge. In 2018, two cyclones dumped heavy rain on the uninhabited portion of the Arabian Peninsula known as “The Empty Quarter,” an area where locusts can breed and reproduce freely.

Use of pesticides

These migratory pests use wind to move and are able to cover up to 150 kilometers in one day. Aerial and ground spraying is ongoing, with plans to set up and equip four additional desert locust control centers. Presently, the primary method of controlling desert locust swarms and hopper bands is with the use of organophosphate chemicals applied in small concentrated doses (referred to as ultra-low volume (ULV) formulation) by vehicle-mounted and aerial sprayers and to a lesser extent by knapsack and hand-held sprayers. Kenya’s National Youth Service (NYS) is a government organisation in 1964 that trains young people in agriculture, construction, urban renewal, traffic control, public security, and other areas. Participation is voluntary.

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