New crop farmers in Turkana wake to locusts

Farmers in Turkana county who turned from livestock to crops after drought wiped out their livestock are now grappling with locust attacks on a scale not previously seen. Farmers belonging to Kang'ilita Irrigation Scheme say they have never seen locust damage so severe, and now predict low yields in the next harvesting season.

Thomas Ekal, among the worst affected, had all the maize in his quarter acre of land wiped out. “We had traditionally been relying on livestock for survival. But with the recurring drought that left most of our livestock dead leaving us starving, we decided to venture into crop farming and with help from well wishers have been growing crops through irrigation. But now this has equally devastated us,” said Ekal, who now expects to harvest some 8 bags of maize in the coming season.

Agricultural officials from the area say more than 10 acres of the irrigated crop land has been hit by the locust invasion, whose origin hasn't been traced yet.

The Ministry of Agriculture together with development partners like FAO are already preparing themselves to supply the farmers with insecticides to fight the locusts.

Desert Locusts, which are suspected to be behind the invasions, can destroy crops quickly because they eat so much. An adult consumes roughly its own weight in food every day, while even a small section of an average swarm can eat as much food as 2,500 people every day.

Swarms average 40 million locusts and can eat up to 80 million tonnes of biomass a day.

Research has shown that if not detected and prevented early, the cost of controlling locusts and other pests from invading and destroying crops rises by up to 15 times.

The latest locust invasion in Kenya was in 2007, when desert locusts from Ethiopia crossed to Kenya and descended on farms around Mandera town of North Eastern province, which had been struggling to be food secure. More than 200 farming families lost their vegetable and cereal crops, with many more losing their livestock, due to locusts invading their pasture.

The families were placed under relief aid for a whole year having lost everything on their farms.

However, scientists saw it as a wake up call and have been pushing for preparedness, as Kenya still remains vulnerable to more attacks due to its shared border with locust invested Ethiopia.

A meeting convened early this year bringing together agriculture ministers under the umbrella body International Red Locust Control Organisation for Central and Eastern Africa (IRLCO-CSA0) noted that the threat of locust invasion was still imminent and real, sounding an alarm about the catastrophic effects this would have on millions of livelihoods across the region.

‘Locusts and other migratory pests have shown time and again that they do not respect man-made political boundaries as they migrate from one country to another causing havoc to crops and livelihoods,’ said Gideon Ndambuki, Assitant Minister for Agriculture during the meeting.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter