Kenya is ready for Locust invasion- Agrochemicals Association of Kenya (AAK)

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Kenya has the pesticides to tackle the country’s locust invasion ready and stored in local warehouses, the Agrochemicals Association of Kenya (AAK) has announced.

This comes even as Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), announced that the current situation in East Africa remains extremely alarming as more swarms form and mature in northern and central Kenya, southern Ethiopia and probably in Somalia.

“This represents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods because it coincides with the beginning of the long rains and the planting season. Although ground and aerial control operations are in progress, widespread rains that fell in late March will allow the new swarms to mostly stay in place, mature and lay eggs while a few swarms could move from Kenya to Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia.” Reads a statement from FAO in part.

FAO also predicts that during May, the eggs will hatch into hopper bands that will form new swarms in late June and July, which coincides with the start of the harvest.

Despite the impending threat to food security in the region, AAK says that spraying has yet to begin to try and control the locusts.

For other countries in the region, an issue cited by the FAO has been reduced air cargo, which has prevented the arrival of pesticides. However, Kenya still has ample incoming cargo capacity and is, instead, held up on government decisions on how to proceed and its procurement.

“As one of Africa’s largest agricultural exporters, we have cargo-only flights, most of which are still flying. These have traditionally arrived in Kenya nearly empty and left full. Thus, even with our total air cargo down to a tenth of its normal capacity, it is offering more than 400 tonnes a week of incoming cargo capacity, which has allowed our industry to bring in far more than the 100 tonnes needed for the next rounds of swarm spraying,” said Eric Kimunguyi, AAK’s CEO.

Kenya has also concluded the process of identifying suitable pesticides. This has been challenging for the scientific community globally, because the opportunities to test insecticides on swarming locusts is rare and irregular, sometimes occurring only once in 20 or even 50 years. “Eradicating locust swarms and eggs is not an everyday challenge that the world’s agricultural organisations can test at will,” said Eric.

According to a statement from AAK, however, working from the experiences available and the insecticides approved globally as safe for use, the Pest Control Products Board (PCPB) carried out a consultation round this year gathering submissions and test data from which it, last month, announced a list of 64 insecticides suitable for use on locusts.

These have been categorised across those already approved for locust use, those not previously approved for locust use in Kenya, but where large scale tests show their efficacy, those where their active ingredient should work on locusts, and those where local PCPB tests have established their efficacy.

All of the 64 have already met safety standards in Kenya or other global regimes for use on other pests.

“With these recommended products announced, the industry now has in place 200 tonnes of these pesticides suitable for locust use. Thus, it is now a case of selection and moving to spraying,” said Eric.

In this, the PCPB has emphasised the need to use varied insecticides to prevent any build up in resistance by locusts to any one product. The scientists must also select the best product for eggs and hoppers, where the initially approved list was proven only on mature swarms.

“We believe the initial selections are imminent. But the important thing to note is that as soon as the Ministry of Agriculture is ready to deploy its recommended locust insecticides, we have then here ready in Kenya. We may just need to see some bold decisions about choosing the right products from the list, and about now starting the spraying of beds and hoppers, if we are to preempt new swarms,” said Eric.

Meanwhile recently, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu welcomed a $10 million donation from Mastercard Foundation to step up the fight against the Desert Locust outbreak in East Africa amid concern about an imminent upsurge in numbers.

The Desert Locust upsurge continues to be alarming, particularly in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, where it threatens food security and livelihoods. In the six East African countries worst affected or at risk of locusts – Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania – 20.2 million people are already experiencing acute food insecurity.

“I thank Mastercard Foundation for its generous contribution as the Desert Locust threatens to provoke a humanitarian emergency,” QU said. “It is crucial that we act hand in hand, scale up efforts to contain the locusts and protect the livelihoods of millions of farmers and their families.”

Mastercard Foundation said its contribution over the next 12 months aims to assist FAO with the early detection of locust swarms, ground and aerial spraying operations, and impact assessments that would promote a sustainable and responsible locust campaign. It will focus on an area spanning 50,000 hectares across six affected countries: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda.

With the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) now warning of a 400-fold increase in the number of locusts in the region by June this year, if spraying does not proceed, the eggs laid by swarms in January are now hatching, generating increasingly large numbers of locust hoppers.

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Yvonne Kawira is an award winning journalist with an interest in matters, regional trade, tourism, entrepreneurship and aviation. She has been practicing for six years and has a degree in mass communication from St Paul’s University.

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