Hungry desert locusts eat away Tana River’s breadbasket

A desert locust on a maize plan.The locusts have destroyed thousands of hectares of food crops along River Tana in Tana river county since they invaded the county in January COURTESY

A food insecurity crisis is looming in the partly semi-arid Tana River County that has over the years become the Kenyan face of the climate change crisis.

This follows the continued devouring of vegetation and food crops by desert locusts that descended in the county four months ago from neighboring Garissa county.

According to an assessment done by the county Department of Agriculture, food farms located along the banks of River Tana in Tana North sub-county are the most affected.

80% of the county population heavily relies on farming along the riverine.

A minimum of 349 localities which include: Sala, Habakik, Maramtu, Bua, Billi Dhidha, Bura Dhima Boka, Nanighi, Sala,Bangale, Mbalambala have been affected with experts predicting the economic impact of the invasion could further be worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced the county government to suspend income-generating activities such as Boda Boda operations and closure of Miraa and Mogoka leaf dens.

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Before the destructive pests crossed over, the National drought Management Authority had estimated that approximately 4000 hectares of food crops were destroyed by floods towards the end of 2019.

“Over 4500 households have been affected by floods in Tana Delta,Tana River, and Tana North sub-counties,”The NDMA said in a statement in December.

Tana River is the only county in the Coast region that has been affected by the locust menace that has affected more than six countries in East and the Horn of Africa.

In January, Tana River county governor Dhado Godhana admitted that the county was ill-equipped to deal with the destructive pests.

“What we will be doing probably is to act as scarecrows to the locusts and any other method including spraying water to try and chase them away but that is not the appropriate solution,” governor Godhana told reporters in Mombasa in January.

His remarks came just a day after the locusts were spotted eating away vegetation in Mandogo ward.

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Politics on the allocation of mitigation resources would soon derail the fight against the destructive pests with officials from Garissa and Tana River counties trading accusations on who is to be blamed for the delayed commencement of Ariel spraying.

On Monday, ariel spraying of the locusts swarms which are now in the nymph stage began.

So far, 2500 hectares of food crops have already been destroyed by the swarms and the county administration has appealed on the national government and development partners to help avert the looming food crisis.

“The locust invasion is a threat to Tana River’s food security and with the COVID-19 and the measures aimed at containing it. The people will be devastated which justifies the call for more support from the national government through the ministry of agriculture and various departments”Tana River county director of communications Steve Juma says.

Last week, the Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO) said that the long rains being experienced in East and the Horn of Africa would accelerate the hatching of eggs laid by the first swarm causing another swarm 50 times larger than the first swarm.

The UN body estimates the second swarm would enter a full-blown infestation in the months of June and July.