Billions of desert locusts alarm farmers in Africa

Locusts or short-horned grasshopper are insects that are often found in solitary state. These insects often wander in green fields and hop from one plant to another.

But, in this rare case in Kenya, millions of locusts came swarming in one are that it has already caused a stir not just to the farmers in the area but also to many people who have seen the report regarding this matter.

Image: Independent UK

According to Independent UK, this is by far the worst outbreak of desert locusts in Kenya in 70 years. Hundreds of millions of the bugs swarm into the East African nation from Somalia and Ethiopia. Those two countries have not had an infestation like this in a quarter-century, destroying farmland and threatening an already vulnerable region with devastating hunger.

Because of this alarming outbreak, farmers flail their arms and shout, bang pots and pans, and even swing shovels and blankets to try to stop the insects from destroying their crops. But their noise-making does little to stop the insects from feasting on their crops.

Image: Independent UK

“Even cows are wondering what is happening,” said Ndunda Makanga, who spent hours on Friday trying to chase the locusts from his farm. “Corn, sorghum, cow peas, they have eaten everything.”

While this situation is already alarming for them, an additional threat still remains. That is- the possible increase in the number of locusts when the rains arrive in March and bring new vegetation across much of the region. The numbers of the fast-breeding locusts could grow 500 times before drier weather in June curbs their spread, the United Nations says.

Image: Independent UK

“We must act immediately,” said David Phiri of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, as donors huddled in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, a three-hour drive away.

About $70 million is needed to step up aerial pesticide spraying, the only effective way to combat them, the UN says. That won’t be easy, especially in Somalia, where parts of the country are in the grip of the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab extremist group.

The rose-colored locusts turn whole trees pink, clinging to branches like quivering ornaments before taking off in hungry, rustling clouds.

Image: Independent UK

Even a small swarm of the insects can consume enough food for 35,000 people in a single day, said Jens Laerke of the UN humanitarian office in Geneva.

Farmers are afraid to let their cattle out for grazing, and their crops of millet, sorghum and maize are vulnerable, but there is little they can do.
About 70,000 hectares (172,973 acres) of land in Kenya are already infested.

“This one, ai! This is huge,” said Kipkoech Tale, a migratory pest control specialist with the agriculture ministry. “I’m talking about over 20 swarms that we have sprayed. We still have more. And more are coming.”

A single swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometer of farmland, an area the size of almost 250 football fields, regional authorities say. One especially large swarm in northeastern Kenya measured 37 miles long by 25 miles wide.

Image: Independent UK

Kenya needs more spraying equipment to supplement the four planes now flying, Mr Tale said. Ethiopia also has four.
They also need a steady supply of pesticides, said Francis Kitoo, deputy director of agriculture in southeastern Kenya’s Kitui county.

A changing climate has contributed to “exceptional” breeding conditions, said Nairobi-based climate scientist Abubakr Salih Babiker. Migrating with the wind, the locusts can cover up to 150 kilometres (93 miles) in a single day. They look like tiny aircraft lazily crisscrossing the sky.

Image: Independent UK

They are now heading toward Uganda and fragile South Sudan, where almost half the country faces hunger as it emerges from civil war. Uganda has not had such an outbreak since the 1960’s and is already on alert.

This situation is indeed very alarming, especially that the affected country has cases of hunger and poverty.

With this, we hope and pray that due attention will be given to these affected areas so that the infestation can be contained very soon and affected families can once again get back to their only means of living.