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Kenyan Farmers Hit by Worst Locust Swarms in 70 Years

A farmer's son raises his arms as he is surrounded by desert locusts while trying to chase them away from his crops, in Katitika village, Kitui county, Kenya, Jan. 24, 2020.

Kenyan farmer Theophilas Kimanzi was expecting a bountiful harvest this season.

But one morning last week, he woke up to find desert locusts had eaten all his crops.

“They feasted on the maize, green grams, they even ate watermelons,” Kimanzi said. “They also ate what was meant for our cows and goats. We have nothing much to do apart from asking the government for help.”

Besides Kenya, the record locust swarms have also hit parts of Ethiopia and Somalia, devouring crops and pastures.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says it is East Africa’s worst desert locust invasion in 25 years, and for Kenya — the worst in 70 years.

Authorities have deployed aircraft to spray and kill the locusts before they spread to neighboring South Sudan and Uganda.

Stephen Njoka is the director of the Eastern Africa Desert Locust Control Organization.

“In Ethiopia, the organization has deployed two aircrafts and they have been operating there since August and up to now, the locusts are still there,” Njoka said. “In Kenya, the locusts came here on the 28th December and, immediately working with the Ministry of Agriculture, we deployed our two aircrafts.”

Meanwhile, farmers like Kimanzi have tried everything from burning tires to making noise to try to chase away the pests.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a northeast Africa trade bloc, said more help is needed in the fight against locusts.

Swarms of desert locusts fly above trees in Katitika village, Kitui county, Kenya, Jan. 24, 2020.
Swarms of desert locusts fly above trees in Katitika village, Kitui county, Kenya, Jan. 24, 2020.

Guleid Artan is the director of IGAD's Climate Prediction and Application Center.

“If this is not dealt with quickly, and timely, this will have a serious effect on the food security of the region.” Artan said. “From the last report from the Global Food Security Crisis group, there were 27 million people who were in need of food aid. Around 13 (million) were due to climate that was recovering because of the rain we received. That will worsen if this is not dealt with in time.”

Locusts are thriving because of changing weather patterns, according to experts.

“Right now, the locust’s invasion is associated with favorable environmental factors that range from the increased temperature and also the wind movement that has been favorable in terms of making the swarms to move and then also the rainfall that has been favorable.” said John Recha, a climate scientist with the International Livestock Research Institute.

But experts said the unexpected rainfall is also preventing drought that would only cause more crops to be destroyed.

That’s little comfort for farmers like Kimanzi, who are left counting their losses and hoping that the locusts can be stopped.