KENYA CONTAINS LOCUSTS FOR NOW BUT THE REGION REMAINS AT RISK OF FURTHER SPREAD
(Posted 28th July 2020)
|At the moment Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) is fighting the second generation of Desert Locusts
Q&A with Cyril Ferrand, Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Resilience Team Leader for East Africa
How is the Desert Locust campaign in East Africa going?
At the moment FAO is fighting the second generation of Desert Locusts. We have made significant progress in a number of countries, especially in Kenya, where only two of the 29 counties that were infested in February have Desert Locusts today. In the coming days, that will drop to one county, and within three weeks Kenya should be free of large-scale infestations altogether. That is a success but the threat of possible re-infestation towards the end of the year will call for careful and continued surveillance.
Fortunately, governments have declared COVID-19 a national priority — that means our ground teams can operate. But with the curfew in Kenya, for example, the number of hours that the teams can operate has been reduced.
Step one is to verify the locations that were spotted and GPS tagged by ground surveillance crews the previous day. Those crews would have also engaged with any residents near the area to inform them of the control activity and provide them with instructions on how to keep themselves or their animals safe. "No go" locations like homes, villages, water bodies, etc. are also mapped for avoidance. In the evening, locusts start roosting or congregating together, so first thing in the morning we send the helicopter to verify if the Desert Locusts are still in those locations. If they are there, we call the spray aircraft — which are on standby, loaded with pesticide – and target those locations, respecting the no go areas and again informing communities.
Simultaneously, we have our other aircraft go on patrol, flying low for three or four hours in search of new swarms. All the pilots have been trained and know how to recognize the locusts when they are roosting on top of the trees. When we spot something, we take a GPS location and then communicate that with the helicopter pilot who does a ground verification of the locusts and their stage of development. It is a tandem operation between people on the ground and people in the air combining surveillance, verification and control. There is a lot of communication. All this data is captured using the our eLocust3 app so that it is fed back to FAO headquarters and informs our ability to monitor, predict and respond to global locust movements. That data stream coming from all the affected countries is critical for our coordination and response.
That would be a typical day for the team. They wake up at 05:00 hours and come back around midday. We have a window of opportunity of about four hours to spray in the morning before the locusts start flying and before the air temperature is too high.
In the afternoons the team goes and speaks to communities, because communication is very important.
We have team members who meet farmers and herders to discuss potential locust damage to their sorghum field or their range land. It is a long day for people on the ground.
We are still assessing the damage, but we have noticed abnormal poor livestock body condition in areas where Desert Locusts were present. That indicates that grazing was limited in these areas this season and indicates that pastureland was not widely available in areas affected by Desert Locusts, despite good rains. That is a concern as we are now entering the dry season. Normally we would only see poor livestock body condition during the dry season. Now we are seeing it even in the middle of the rainy season, which is really abnormal.
In Turkana County in northern Kenya, we recently saw sorghum crops with around 15 to 20 percent damage or reduction of the yield. Also, it is important to remember that we have had a series of droughts since 2016. The multiple layers of threats that these communities have been facing is a significant concern and a source of acute food insecurity in the region.
We predict that from June to December we could have many more people in the region severely food insecure due to Desert Locusts alone. If we add an additional factor – such as COVID-19 – and the pre-existing caseload of people already food insecure prior to the upsurge — the situation in the region is quite dramatic.