By Sharon Atieno

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has called on its Member States and partners to pull resources together to prevent, control and possibly eradicate the Desert locust threat to the food security of the region.

“Prevention and control measures must be scaled up to contain further spread of the Desert locust,” said IGAD’s Executive Secretary Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu. “Countries must act urgently to avoid a food security crisis in the region.”

The widespread Desert locust outbreak is destroying crops and pasture across eastern Ethiopia and neighbouring areas of Somalia, parts of Sudan, Eritrea and northern Kenya with a high risk of further spread in the absence of immediate and significant scale up in control activities.

There has been a significant and extremely dangerous increase in swarm activity during the past week in Kenya where numerous, large immature swarms are spreading from the initial invasion areas of the northeast (Mandera county) south to Wajir and Garissa, west along the Ethiopian border (Moyale and Marsabit counties) and southwest into central areas north of Mt Kenya (Isiolo, Samburu, Meru and most recently Laikipia counties).

One immature swarm was 60 km long by 40 km wide in the northeast. More swarms are expected to occur in these areas, some of which are already moving north of Mt. Kenya westwards to the Rift Valley (Baringo County) where they could continue northwest to Turkana County, while others will move west along the Ethiopian border, and some swarms could move further south to Tana River County.

The Food Security and Nutrition Working Group (FSNWG) warn that there is a risk that some swarms could appear in northeast Uganda, southeast South Sudan and southwest Ethiopia.

desert locust threat situation
Source: FAO

According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), this is the worst situation in 25 years with unusual weather and climate condition contributing to it.

The locust is making the bad food security situation worse in the sub-region, exacerbating the existing dire food insecurity and malnutrition in the sub-region, warned Dr David Phiri, FAO sub regional co-odinator for Eastern Africa.

He added that the weather seems favourable for the locust breeding with high probability that the locust will continue to breed until March-April 2020, if no longer.

The same sentiments are shared by FSNWG in their statement which reads: “A further increase in locust swarms is likely to continue until about June due to the continuation of favourable ecological conditions for Locust breeding.”

The Desert locust is among the most dangerous species of locusts, existing in the desert areas across 20 countries between West Africa and India and covering nearly 16 million square kilometers. A typical desert locust swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometer and can migrate up to 100 to 150 kilometers in a day.

An average swarm can destroy as much food crops in a day as is sufficient to feed 2,500 people and pasture biomass.

In order to deal with the Desert locust invasion, it is recommended that there should be increased ground surveillance for early detection, increased use of wind forecasts to help in pre-empting trajectory of bands and swarms as well as immediate regional mapping of current invasion and forecast trajectory.

Moreover, there should be aggressive targeted aerial and ground spraying, immediate up scaling of aerial control operations and use of local radio in dissemination and education as well as to encourage citizens to report any incidences of desert locusts.