The government has dispatched a second air spray aircraft to Isiolo to reinforce the operations and further intensified monitoring through chiefs, elders, County Commissioners and community members, who have been asked to locate and report any locust spotted at their resting habitats.

Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Cabinet Secretary (CS) Mwangi Kiunjuri said that the government through the Emergency Kitty has allocated 254 million shillings to help in efforts to fight the desert locusts with an additional Sh50 million expected from the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO).

Kiunjuri explained that the desert locust which have the ability to fly an average of 120 kilometers per day have invaded Mandera, Marsabit, Garissa, Wajir, Isiolo and Samburu counties.

The first swam crossed the border into Kenya from Somalia on 28th December 2019 and other swarms continued coming from Ethiopia with additional ones from Somalia.

“The desert locusts have the potential to spread rapidly to other counties and pose unprecedented threat to food security and other livelihoods. That is why the government immediately responded by placing technical officers on the ground to start the control operations and training local people to support both the ground and aerial teams fighting the locust infestation,” said Kiunjuri.

He added that the government made available and distributed pesticides, vehicle mounted sprayers, motorized knapsack sprayers, handheld ultra-low volume sprayers and personnel protective gears.

He confirmed that following these moves, the government has been able to spray large sums of locusts and are currently tracking others with trained officers in the affected counties.

The CS explained that the best time to attack the locusts is when they are resting that is from around 5pm to around 8am and not when they are on the move and this way whole swarms can be attacked early morning as they rest.

He assured Kenyans that the government is taking precautions to ensure that the swarms do not advance to other areas and in this respect they are continuing to offer trainings and emergency briefings for key officers in the affected counties to boost on ground and aerial control measures.

“We are equipping the people in the counties so that they are able to handle the locusts should they cross over to the neighboring counties of Isiolo, Samburu, Meru, Tharaka Nithi, Kitui, Garissa, Embu and Laikipia and we have reached out to governors to send their teams to Isiolo to for a training that kicks off tomorrow Saturday,” said Kiunjuri.

The CS explained that the best time to attack the locusts is when they are resting that is from around 5pm to around 8am and not when they are on the move and this way whole swarms can be attacked early morning as they rest.

“We have also set up a multi-sector command center her at the ministry of agriculture and its agencies, including the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS), Pest Control Products board, the University of Nairobi (UoN), the Desert Locust Control Organization of East Africa, FAO and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).

Kiunjuri said that it is important to know that not all grass hoppers are desert locusts and people should stop causing panic by circulating images and videos on social media some of which are of grasshoppers.

“What was reported in some media stations as locusts seating in Machakos and Meru are long horned grasshoppers that are normally with us and which have multiplied due to weather changes,” said Kiunjuri.

He added that they have been facing challenges in fighting the locusts since they are a regional threat and some of the neighboring countries which are facing insecurity and additional locusts migrate into Kenya from these countries.

“FAO have promised a third aircraft and additional insecticides,” he said.

Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa Director Stephen Njoka said that they operate in the region in Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.

“We have been expecting this invasion of locust. We had already experienced it in Ethiopia and Somalia and part of Sudan but we are controlling it and sending a second aircraft to tackle the locusts in Isiolo and Meru areas,” said Njoka.

Stephen Njoka, Director of the Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa, based in Addis Ababa Ethiopia, gives an insight on the migration of the desert locust from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia and the mitigation measures, during the press brief on the invasion of the desert locust in Kenya, specifically Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit, Garissa, Isiolo and Samburu

“We are very keen on the safety of insecticides being used and I can confirm that they are Ultra Low Volume Sprays which are released in very little doses for long distances but still very effective,” said Njoka adding that it is applied as half a liter per hectare and only attacks the locusts and it is safe.

Njoka said that in one swarm we can have up to 60 million insects which poses a challenge in tackling them and the best way is to control them at their breeding grounds.

By Fred Azelwa