Update on desert locust invasion in Kenya

A webinar was held on Tuesday June 23, 2020 to give an update on the Desert Locust invasion in the country.

Speaking during the webinar, Prof. Hamadi Boga, the Principal Secretary, State Department for Crop Development and Agricultural Research gave an overview of when the locusts first invaded the country from December 28, 2019 with sightings in 28 Counties. He noted aerial and ground spray has been ongoing in 17 counties and the Government has put in efforts to contain the pests by deploying 3 spray aircrafts and 6 surveillance aircrafts. Other supports to the counties have been in form of Kenya Army Land Rovers for ground control, pick-ups provided by Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), motorized sprayers, handheld ULV sprayers, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE’Es) and knapsack sprayers. There have also been efforts on empowerment and capacity building by training extension officers, National Youth Servicemen on locust ground control operation. Prof. Hamadi further noted there has been several challenges including flow of information, reports from the field not forthcoming, few people using the eLocust3m app and slow implementation of some activities like meetings and trainings due to restrictions on gatherings following the COVID-19 outbreak.

The 2nd speaker was Keith Cressman, Senior Locust Forecasting Officer, FAO who spoke on forecasting and the use of technology by using the eLocust3m mobile app. This is an application that allows national locust officers in affected countries to record and transmit survey and control data in real time to their national locust centres. The data collected is then used to access the current situation, forecast its developments and warn locust-affected countries and the international donor community of invasions and plagues. The app also allows more people to become involved in surveillance, including county teams, NGO’S and locals. Mr Cressman emphasized that good training is critical to ensure high quality data and no confusion with other types of locusts and grasshoppers.

The 3rd speaker was Dr. Stephen W. Njoka, Director, Desert Locust Control Organization-East Africa (DLCO-EA) who spoke on the view and mandate of DLCO-EA. Dr. Njoka noted the organization’s mandate is to concentrate on aerial spray and control of migratory pest, to conduct research on migratory pests, pesticides use and safety, coordinate information flow and forecasting and to increase its role in staff development. Dr. Njoka noted the organization had actively participated in the aerial survey and control of Desert Locust (DL) upsurges of 2019/2020. DLCO-EA senior officers have continuously provided technical backstopping to the ground team through field visits and preparation of logistics for aerial survey and control. DLCO-EA in collaboration with FAO and Ministry of Agriculture also conducted desert locust control training for plant protection staff in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda. The challenges the organization is currently facing include, five very old spray aircrafts which operate very short range, these aircrafts have piston engines that use Avgas which is not available in some member countries, the fuel is very expensive @ 1500 USD per drum of 200 litres as compared to Jet AI, and inadequate funds for controlling outbreaks like the current one.

Muthomi Njuki, Governor, Tharakanithi and Council of Governors Agriculture Committee Chairman noted the locust invasion is not just a problem of the government.

“Unless the farmers own the problem and participate, controlling the desert locusts will be an uphill task,” he said.

The Governor also noted that the county had to deal with post-harvest losses since harvests had to be removed from the farms before the cereals dried.

His Turkana counterpart Governor Turkana County Joseph Nanok acknowledged the country is facing a very unprecedented situation. He noted huge groups of hoppers in 4 sub counties are moving around and eating everything apart from the neem tree. The Governor also noted they have mobilized 20 field vehicles and over 430 youth will be trained from the 4 sub counties where the locusts have been spotted.

 Mr. Hamisi Williams, Assistant Representative- Programmes also spoke on the experiences and lessons learnt from the locust invasion. The desert locusts are very unpredictable, they have been there since time immemorial and they are very irregular. They have no regular pattern they follow. He also noted the desert locusts had overstayed in Is iolo and Turkana because the weather is conducive for their breeding. Some of the lessons that can be learnt include: DL occurrence intervals are unpredictable so we need to be prepared at all times, DL, invasion pattern is largely a weather issue; accurate, continuous monitoring and prediction of weather pattern is key to DL management, DL is a migratory pest and moves swiftly without boundaries from region to region; control must be given regional, block, national approach and global and regional agencies like FAO, DLCO must be strengthened and be prepared at all times. DL is a very expensive affair; there is need for multi-agency/development partners to support governments. There is also need for suitable infrastructure and specialised equipment which are key to control DL activities.

 Dr. Asha Mohammed, Secretary General, Kenya Red Cross Society highlighted on the survey of post desert locust invasion impact to support recovery.  Dr. Asha noted that a total of 16 counties were surveyed in Kenya grouped in clusters. Cluster one included Isiolo, Baringo Samburu, Turkana, Elgeyo Marakwet and Laikipia. Cluster 2 included Mandera, Wajir and Marsabit and cluster 3 included Kitui, Tharakanithi, Embu, Meru, Machakos, Garissa and Tanariver. The survey concluded DL is one of the most destructive migratory pests in the world and highly mobile. It feeds on large quantities of any kind of green vegetation, including crops, pasture/browse and fodder. DL is anticipated to potentially lead to food insecurity, displacement and conflicts as communities seek alternative food for themselves and their livestock.

The final speaker was Vinay Kumar, Senior Agriculture Specialist who spoke on ‘looking into the future-the way forward. Mr. Vinay noted an emergency locust response program was created in order to fight the DL menace in the country. There is need for livelihood restoration by providing grants for input support through micro projects to get crop and livestock production restored, there is also need for strengthening farmer producer organizations to facilitate access to inputs, services and output markets for sustainable restoration of their livelihoods. He also emphasized on the need for early warning and preparedness. This can be done by establishing linkages and communication systems and protocols through international, regional, and national bodies so that warnings are not missed and standard operating procedures for a desert locust response are developed. There is also need to support existing manufactures to build the capacity to produce sufficient quantities of quality biopesticide.

In conclusion the following recommendations were proposed by the various speakers

●        Encourage all the field staff to use eLocust3m app when reporting

●        Provide clarity on relationships between counties and bases

●        Continue with surveillance and control

●        There is need for agricultural support to farmers in form of seed, fodder and restocking

●        Establishing a multi-sectorial preparedness and response team

●        Strengthening DL surveillance since effective control depends on the stage of growth of the DL.

●        Strengthening knowledge and awareness on the conventional DL control measures; to support rapid response at community level

●        Adoption of technology in DL management

Strengthening Desert Locust Control Organization-East Africa (DLCO-EA)

●        It is crucial to improve the capacity and preparedness of the Organization as a whole

●        Equip the Air Unit with modern aircrafts to respond to the threats of desert locust’s infestation and other migratory pests.

●        Enable the organization to serve its mission through playing its part as an effective insurance during migratory pests’ attack.

The Desert Locust Control Programme comprises collaboration from several Organizations including the World Bank, ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries & Cooperatives, Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Desert Locust Control Organization-East Africa (DLCO-EA) and the Kenya Red Cross.The Webinar was moderated by Dr. George Ongamo, an Entomologist from the University of Nairobi’s School of Biological and Physical Sciences.

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