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KENYA: Locusts plunder food-scarce Turkana County

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Swarms of locusts that recently invaded Turkana County have destroyed several hectares of vegetation and food crops, worsening the threat of acute hunger in a region that already suffers recurrent drought.

More swarms of the destructive pests entered Loima Sub-County as they munched through all green matter in sight including pasture and food crops in Lolemgete, Kankurumeri, Kanyangapus, Kankuridio and Moru Edou villages.

The latest invasion has left local residents a worried lot, amid fears of looming starvation.

According to Kapua Sub-Location Acting Assistant Chief David Eteleg, the tree locusts – locally known as Emathe – were feeding on green vegetation cover that is pasture for camels, donkeys, goats and sheep.

“The locusts have reversed gains made in attaining food security despite previous efforts by the County Government to control the spread,” Mr Eteleg said.

Locusts have invaded the county recently, with reports of their presence in the region as early as September last year. Interviewed locals said more than 10,000 acres of crop and pasture were last year damaged by locusts.

In 2018, lack of intervention by both the County and National Governments saw locusts plants in the region swept clean and left residents at a high risk of imminent starvation.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in its latest update yesterday confirmed that they were spotted near Kapedo.

“Today, a swarm reached the southern Rift Valley near Kapedo on the border of Baringo and Turkana counties. Aerial and ground control operations are in progress in some areas. Further movements are expected, especially in Turkana and Marsabit counties,” the UN body said in the notice dated January 20..

When the Nation visited Kapua sub-location, the residents were using crude methods including whistles to scar away the locusts.

“Excretes from the swarm of locusts are contaminating water sources and lives of both livestock and humans are at risk,” said Jacob Ekwam a herder.

He expressed fears that their camels will die from lack of pasture unless the government controls the spread.

“What used to be green trees at Kapua area are now dry standing trees. We don’t know where to get pasture.” Mr Ekwam said.

The insects started multiplying in large numbers immediately after the rains last year.

The herders are now forced to move to less attacked fields that are far away from water sources.

Turkana is suffering a fresh infestation nine months after the county government spent Sh27 million to control the destructive insects across the six constituencies.

County Executive for Agriculture, Pastoral Economy and Fisheries Chris Aletia said that the devolved unit will conduct a joint assessment with partners across the county to collect data on locust infested areas.

Mr Aletia said that early control and prevention of desert locusts was key to salvaging crops and pasture.

The team appealed to locals to raise alarm if they see the insects for prompt mapping and control.

“We will coordinate with the national government for timely intervention and mitigation of locust infestation.” the county official said.

Wajir, Garissa, Isiolo and Marsabit counties are worst hit with aerial spraying using an aircraft ongoing.

Last year, the locusts were controlled in two phases after 3,000 liters of sumithion ULV insecticide was procured.

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