The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has intensified its desert locust control measures in Turkana County, through the issuance of six surveillance vehicles, three pickups mounted with sprayers, one helicopter, two spray airplanes and one fixed wing aircraft for surveillance operations along the Kenya-Uganda border. This is in response to the reported sightings of mature copulating swarms last month, which have resulted in the current presence of 200 hopper bands sites in both pastures and farmland as well as urban centers. Turkana South sub-county is the most hit, followed by Turkana West, Turkana Central and Loima. Turkana is now the epicentre of desert locust control measures, with the highest number of hopper band sites reported. The number of counties infested with desert locusts has now reduced from 28 to four counties: Isiolo, Marsabit, Samburu and Turkana. “FAO is taking a regional approach to the desert locust control response, and it is important for Turkana to intensify control measures to ensure that the desert locusts do not mature and continue to compound the threat to Kenya’s and East Africa’s food security,” said Dr Tobias Takavarasha, FAO Representative to Kenya ad interim, who was speaking during the flagging off at Lodwar Airstrip.
Last month, FAO enlisted the Kenyan Red Cross to conduct an assessment on the impact of desert locusts and control measures on the environment, crops, livestock and livelihoods in 16 counties. This will be done through informant interviews, the use of drones and satellite imagery. These counties include Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet, Embu, Garissa, Isiolo, Kitui, Likipia, Machakos, Mandera, Marsabit, Meru, Samburu, Tana River, Tharaka Nithi, Turkana, and Wajir. FAO has also collaborated with Food for the Hungry, Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED) and Somali Lifeline Organization to support counties in mobilizing the movement of ground teams to perform both surveillance and control measures in the 16 most affected counties. The Deputy Governor of Turkana County, Peter Lothiro welcomed this further support. “The additional support has arrived at a very crucial time. We urge the community to collaborate, and share any sightings of desert locusts so that teams can be quickly dispatched to the site.” “In addition to the logistical support we have received from FAO, 200 National Youth Servicemen who I trained together with FAO are on their way to Turkana. One-hundred will be in Lokichar, Turkana South, and another 100 in Lodwar will be sent to sights in Loima and Turkana central,” said Turkana Desert Locust Control base manager, Stanley Kipkoech.
Compounded threat to food security
Already, 3.1 million people in arid and semi-arid areas of the country are food insecure and increased breeding of desert locusts, coupled with the current flooding as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, poses a wider risk of food and pasture shortages. Regionally, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda host 25.3 million people facing high levels of acute food insecurity, which is 28 percent of Africa’s caseload. Of these, more than 11 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are located in areas currently affected by desert locust infestations. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and current floods, desert locust surveillance and control measures continue in earnest. Presently, these migratory pests have been contained in four counties (Isiolo, Marsabit, Samburu, Turkana), down from the previous 28. This has been achieved through effective aerial and ground spraying, as well as increased surveillance. The 501 National Youth Servicemen that FAO trained in February have been very instrumental in curbing the spread of desert locusts at the hopper band stage. The ten vehicles mounted with sprayers and the three aircrafts purchased and hired respectively by FAO have been instrumental in controlling these mature and immature flying swarms.
Use of technology
Further, the eLocust3m mobile app developed in partnership with Plant Village and used by scouts to gather real-time data in the form of photos of sighted desert locusts as well as to share GPS coordinates of their locations has been instrumental in the efficient coordination of surveillance and control measures. FAO hired four helicopters that are used to verify the locations uploaded to the eLocust3m app and to decide whether aerial or ground spraying would be effective based on the lifecycle of the desert locusts reported. This app is now being used to map out current breeding sites in readiness for hand-held spraying by National Youth Servicemen once the desert locusts hatch. So far, 303 881 ha has been surveyed and 100 773 ha has been infested, of which 56 079 ha has been treated. Of the 193 600 litres of pesticides procured by FAO for the Government of Kenya, only 30 000 litres have been delayed in India due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Rolling resource partner response
FAO recently scaled up its appeal to USD 153.2 million for rapid response and anticipatory action in the region between January and December 2020. Kenya’s allocation is USD 21.4 million, of which USD 19.85 million has been received from USAID, the European Union, the UK Department for International Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Central Emergency Response Fund, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, the Africa Solidarity Trust Fund, Canada, Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation, with more in the pipeline. The European Commission's Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO) has recently topped up their contribution by USD 2 million. ‘We are delighted by the continued commitment of resource partners to support the Government of Kenya in the race to fight against the current desert locust invasion in order to safeguard food security. This is a big morale booster for our teams who are working tirelessly in the counties affected,’ said Dr Tobias Takavarasha, FAO Representative to Kenya.