Since the onset of last year, desert locusts alleged to come from Ethiopia and Somalia have been ravaging crops in Kenyan farmlands. Residents dealing with the infestation crises have been living in worry, concerned over looming food insecurity for both their livestock and families.
Mission to Curb Locust Invasion
Meanwhile, following the ongoing locust infestations in the country, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, together with the 51 Degrees company, teamed up to control the situation. Both partners have invented tracking software integrated with a hotline system that helps trace and tackle locust swarms.
The software first came to be when cases of wildlife poaching had escalated in the country. The device would help track poaching, injured wildlife, and illegal logging. Generally, it was developed to promote sustainability. So how does the software function? When one comes across an area infested by locusts, they take a picture and send it to the authorities in charge. I.e., is with the help of the software. The hotline receives calls from village chiefs or even any of the 3000 trained local scouts in the country.
Once the relevant authorities are alarmed, they dispatch aircraft according to the data on the swarms’ size. Upon arrival, the aircraft cautiously spray only the infested area. Batian Craig, director of 51 Degrees, explains how his company has contributed to battling the locusts.
“We have been part of the desert locust surveying and control since January 2020. You know our approach is completely changing because of good, timely and accurate data. And with that certainly for Kenya, and this way, we have stopped 80% getting back into the breadbasket where last year we were dealing with a very different situation.”
Cyril Ferrand, the FAO East Africa Resilience Team Leader, also stated the efforts they have been embracing to curb the locusts. As of now, they have deployed ten aircraft operating in Kenya, spraying the swarms of locusts.
Locust Invasion in East Africa
Desert locusts are significantly hard to deal with insects. On an average day, each locust feeds vegetation, amounting to its weight. Since a swarm contains millions of locusts, you can imagine the damage they can cause. The ravenous insects first infested the horn of eastern Africa in mud 2019. As it happens, these insects migrate with winds the managed to reach other parts of east Africa.
Jane Gatumwa, a local farmer in Kenya, cannot wait for the swarm of locusts to fly away or die. She says that before the locusts invaded their lands, they harvested 25 bags of maize from an acre of land. However, they do not expect to reap anything this time as the locusts have completely eaten everything.
When there were no locusts, they could harvest 50 bags of potatoes and five bags of beans per acre. Jane urges the government to act swiftly by spraying pesticides to at least salvage the remaining crops. For the past 70 years, Kenya had not seen the pest. The unavailability of aircraft and pesticides altered initial attempts to curb the locusts when they first arrived in the country.
Last year, the locusts affected the food supply of up to 2.5 million people. Analysts predict that the number might surge to 3.5 million come this year if the locusts continue to feed on crops.