Hon. Bagiire Aggrey, the Minister of State for Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, has Friday announced an outbreak of desert locusts in the Eastern Africa Region.
The second half of the year 2019 recorded unusually high rains in most parts of Eastern Africa that had not been seen in many years.
These rains incidentally fell also in the semi-arid traditional Desert Locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) breeding ecological areas of Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.
The favourable conditions facilitated further locusts breeding, multiplication and spread in to Kenya.
Facts about the Desert Locust
Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is a species of short- horned grasshopper family.
It is characterized by its nature of high mobility (migratory) and broad spectrum feeding habits.
Locust Status/ Phases
Locusts have ability to alter their behaviour, colour, size and shape. When the population density is low, locusts behave as individuals, when the population is high, they swarm and migrate.
The locust life cycle comprises three stages of egg, hopper and adult and it lives a total of 3 to 6 months.
Locust ecology and behaviour
In Solitary phase, the Desert Locust lives individual life until it rains with availability of vegetation, the females lay eggs.
Desert Locusts usually fly with the wind and swarms can travel between 5-150 km or more a day depending on weather conditions and normally taking off 2-3 hours after sunrise in warm weather and 4-6 hours in cool weather.
Locust feeding habits
Locust swarms vary from less than one km2 to several hundred km2. There can be at least 40 to 80 million locusts in each km2 of swarm.
Coupled with its amazing ability to build up and multiply to colossal numbers, a locust can eat its own weight in fresh food (about 2 gm/day).
Half million locusts weigh about 1 ton and they can eat about 1 ton of food enough to feed 2500 people.
Current situation and control operations in Kenya
By October 2019, the Desert Locust situation had worsened in Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, and Somalia and the governments had instituted aerial spray control operations with support from Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa (DLCOEA) and other Development partners.
As earlier predicted by FAO experts, the Locusts invaded North Eastern Kenyan County of Mandera by December 2019.
Currently by (9th January,2020) they have spread to the 6 Counties of Mandera, Marsabit, Wajir, Garissa, Meru and Isiolo.
The Kenyan government working with DLCOEA and partners has instituted control operations to suppress the population and stop further spread.
Due to the security situation in Somalia and North Eastern Kenya (Mandera and Garissa Counties) and other factors, there are still large locusts’ swarms observed from Somalia and Ethiopia with further spread inside Kenya.
Since the current control capacity is limited, some of the swarms could move further Western into Turkan county, probably by Mid-January 2020, with likely potential and risk that some swarms could spill over into the North Eastern region of Uganda, particularly Karamoja region (borders Turkana County).
Interventions by Maaif
a) Uganda is a member of the Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa (DLCO EA) and is currently closely working and sharing information on the current status of the desert Locust in the Region.
b) A technical team of 2 (Two) officers have been assigned to travel to Kenya (Wajir and Marsabit counties) to understudy the current Locust control operations to subsequently share experiences and support the control efforts in Uganda (in case of any outbreak).
c) MAAIF has communicated to MOFPED to make good of the arrears on Annual contributions to DLCO EA which currently stand at US $ 5,090,000 as of June 30, 2019. This is in cognizance and appreciation of the current pressure on the DLCO EA operation.
d) The Ministry has communicated to office of the Prime minister on the imminent Locust invasions and requested MOFPED for provision of a contingency fund of 5bn ug. Shillings to cater for aircraft fuel (aircraft to be provided by DLCO EA), pesticides for control, provide for ground spray equipment and spray teams and to continuously create awareness to the population in case of an invasion.
e) The Ministry has alerted all the Districts in Karamoja and entire Eastern Region to be on the look out and the public to report immediately to the nearest Extension Staff in case of any strange grasshoppers detected in their areas.