The end of the worst locust infestation in Kenya in 7 decades is nowhere near over.
Swarms of young amber locusts cover the terrain and vegetation like a fluttering carpet. This locust outbreak is putting the livelihoods of millions of East African people in jeopardy, says an Associated Press report.
Minimizing The Damage
Hired by the UN Food and Agricultural Organization, Boris Polo, a logistician with a helicopter is helping to mitigate the damage.
He helps by locating the voracious swarms and marking the site for targeted spraying of pesticide.
“It sounds grim because there’s no way you’re gonna kill all of them because the areas are so vast,” he told The Associated Press
“But the key of the project is to minimize” the damage, and the work is definitely having an effect, he said.
However, only Kenya and Ethiopia are doing the pesticide control work. “In places like Sudan, South Sudan, especially Somalia, there’s no way, people can’t go there because of the issues those countries are having,” Polo said.
Caught In A Cycle
“The risk of significant impact to both crops and rangelands is very high,” the regional IGAD Climate Prediction & Applications Center said in a statement.
The locust plague has put a large part of East Africa in a never-ending cycle of widespread devastation. Billions of locusts are gnawing at the crops and brush that sustains the livestock of many.
The swarms of locusts that start as hoppers and later on develop to mature ones can form a single swarm so large that it can wipe out the horizon.
These pests, once airborne, will be harder to contain as they can fly up to 200 kilometers per day.
One Country After Another
“They follow prevailing winds,” Polo said. “So they’ll start entering Sudan, Ethiopia and eventually come around toward Somalia.” By then, the winds will have shifted and whatever swarms are left will come back into Kenya.
“By February, March of next year they’ll be laying eggs in Kenya again,” he said.
Efforts Showing Results
Earlier this year, The World Bank announced a $500 million program for countries affected by locust infestation. The FAO has sought more than $300 million.
The pesticide spraying in Kenya “has definitely borne fruit,” said Kenneth Mwangi, a satellite information analyst with ICPAC. There’s been a sharp decline from the first wave of locusts, and a few counties that had seen “huge and multiple swarms” now report little to none. Areas experiencing the second wave are notably the farthest from control centers, he said.
But without the control work, Polo said, the already dramatic swarms would be even more massive.
“These plagues are part of nature,” Polo said. “They actually rejuvenate the areas. They don’t kill the plants, they eat the leaves. Everything grows back.
“They don’t harm the natural world, they harm what humans need in the natural world.”