SWARMS OF LOCUSTS DEVASTATE FARMERS IN KENYA

Farmers in Mandera County have experienced several recurrent natural and man-made shocks including droughts, floods, diseases and conflicts that have impacted their lives and livelihoods. Over the years, the communities have acquired knowledge and strategies to help them cope with these shocks.
 
 

Written by Mohamed Ali

In January 2020, the residents of Mandera county experienced an uncontrollable swarm of locust, the worst of its kind in over 70 years. This is a crisis that both community and county authorities did not anticipate. The locust which entered the county in swarms from neighboring Somalia caused unprecedented havoc to both livestock and farms.

A team from BORESHA - A DRC led consortium - visited a farmer to assess the level damage and preparedness of the community in case they are hit by another invasion.

The team headed to Girisa location - 2KM north of Rhamu town - where Issack Mahat, one of the project beneficiaries and a farmer, affected by the locust invasion lives. His home is a typical Somali homestead comprising of 3 Somali aqals (a dome-shaped collapsible traditional Somali shelter made from poles covered by woven fiber mats.

He recounted the havoc caused by the desert locust during the last invasion as well as its secondary effects. In his village, the locust came in two phases. The first group of swarms were smaller in size, less destructive and could easily be scared away. In the second phase however, the swarms grew larger and invaded the farms causing unprecedented damage to their crops.

Locusts _web

Desert locusts in the air. Photo: I Jeremy - Mandera County Press.

All the lush green maize fields were reduced to hard stalks leading to massive losses. Almost half of the mango trees in Girissa, which have provided food and a source of income for the residents, were completely destroyed. The forage in the rangelands was also not spared. This has greatly affected food security in the county. 

For many, farm produce is not only consumed at household level but also provides them with an income. This enables them to attend to their household basic needs and gives them access to services such as health care, education, among others.

“I have never, in my 53 years, seen this kind of a problem. The county government’s intervention was too little, came too late and ended as soon as it began. We employed simple methods such as beating of drums, shouting, hooting (using motorbikes), and lighting bonfires just to scare the insects away.” Mr. Issack remarked.

Locusts -issack _web

Mr. Issack has expressed real fears of the second swarms of the desert locust. Photo: I Abdulaziz - BORESHA.

As the Chairman of the location’s Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) committee, Mr. Issack has been closely following both local and international news to get apprised of the current state of events. Through information received from the media, it is eminent that another invasion will be hitting the County again.

“We are people who rely and trust in God and we pray that we don’t see another locust invasion but as a committee, we are also trying to create awareness so that people do not heavily invest in planting of crops that may end up being destroyed by the locust. It is tricky because if we advise people not plant, there will be food security problems whether there will be invasion or not and if they plant and we witness another invasion, it will be a double loss, loss of invested money and loss of the planted crops. Other than awareness creation, there is nothing else we can do. Even the government is not prepared and we don’t expect much from them.” Mr. Issack noted.

Proper planning and timely response is needed to counter the effects caused by the locust invasion. The floods that were experienced in the region recently led to food scarcity, which has further been compounded by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The climate remains propitious to locust breeding and, based on projections, swarms in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan could increase 400-fold by June 2020, despite control and/ or spraying operations.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that the presence of the swarms could lead to between 50% and 100% crop loss in affected areas, in a region that already counts 20 million people that are food insecure. If the situation is not addressed sooner, it will have far reaching effects to the affected communities.