By HENRY OWINO (Senior Correspondent)

The Kenya Government has stepped up efforts to mitigate Desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) in the country. The pests which so far have invaded eight counties causing serious damage to all types of plants are being countered in air and on land by all relevant government agencies.

The locust swarms which entered the country through Elwak in Mandera Country on 28 December 2019, from the neighboring country, Ethiopia, mainly invaded northern region of Kenya. The pests have since spread to other counties, leaving a trail of destruction.

The situation has caused a lot of concern to the Government, especially considering that most regions of the country has just started recovering from prolonged drought and floods that caused loss of lives and property.

Currently, eight counties have been actively invaded by the pests. These include Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit Garissa, Isiolo, Meru, Samburu and Laikipia counties. Other neighboring counties are under serious threat of this invasion.

The locusts feed on large quantities of any green materials that include crops, pastures, fodder and browse and therefore pose a threat to all green vegetation. According to environmentalists, the invasion can result into ecological catastrophe, food security owing to loss of food crops, livelihood from loss of livestock and cash crops, and wildlife.

Colonel Retired Cyrus Oguna, the Government Spokesman told journalists that the pests are a serious threat to food security in the country and require concerted effort to address it. He therefore informed the media personnel that the Government has so far up-scaled efforts to combat invasion and contain the situation thereby preventing any further spread to other regions.

Col Rtd Oguna, pointed out some of the intervention efforts being undertaken by the Government which include; increased number of team experts deployed to the affected areas to train and mobilize the county ground teams to undertake monitoring and surveillance of the swarms in order for spraying activity to take place.

Col Rtd Oguna explained: “To date, 145 officers at the county level have been trained and are capable of handling the situation. There are 7 spraying aircrafts and 2 helicopters deployed in the operation. They include two from the Desert Locust Control Organization (DLCO) of Eastern Africa, two hired by Government, 3 from the private sector, 2 helicopters each from International Red Locust Control Organization for Central and Southern Africa (RLCO-CSA) and the private sector.”

“Additionally, there are three vehicles mounted with sprayers, 18 motorized with knapsack sprayers, 50 hand held ULV sprayers, 175 personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) which have also been distributed to the affected regions,’’ Col Rtd Oguna expounded.

The Government Spokesman emphasized that efforts are underway to provide additional vehicles mounted sprayers. For example, an additional 4,700 litres of control pesticides for spraying the locusts have been purchased and distributed to the affected areas. So, there is an adequate pesticide to continue with the control exercise.

There are also multi-agency teams working with the available expertise on locust control to drive strategies and guide the management of locusts across the country. Members of the team including the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries & Cooperatives and its agencies, County Governments, FAO, University of Nairobi, ICIPE, Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International and Joint Agriculture Secretariat.

“The Government is cognizant of the challenges in locust control effort, which include rapid multiplication of dense swarms which move for long distances while feeding on large quantities of fresh green vegetation along their path.” Col Rtd Oguna affirmed.

“In this regard, every effort is being made to have additional aircraft for surveillance and logistical support on the ground to undertake the sustained spraying operations and to limit the spread of pests,” The Government Spokesman, assured Kenyans.

The Government is fully committed to ensuring that the locust menace is under control and is determined to control the situation in the invaded areas and forestall further spread.

“As Government, we also call upon each and everyone to be vigilant to report to the nearest Government officials whenever the pest is sighted. This collaboration is important for all of us to help in containing the spread of the pests to other areas.