News ID: 264440
Published: 1140 GMT January 17, 2020

UN warns of 'extreme danger' to food supply amid locusts swarming into Kenya

UN warns of 'extreme danger' to food supply amid locusts swarming into Kenya

The UN warned of a “significant and extremely dangerous” escalation in the number of desert locusts descending on Kenya, as the government strives to contain the threat before it reaches the country’s food-producing regions.

The tropical grasshoppers have been wreaking havoc on Kenya’s neighbors to the north and east, devouring tens of thousands of hectares of crops in Ethiopia and Somalia since last June, the Guardian reported.

Swarms crossed over into northeast Kenya on December 28. In a statement released on Monday, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicted that their “potential spread” could include the breadbasket counties of central Kenya.

If it does, the insects could destroy crucial parts of the country’s food supply, at a time when food insecurity is already on the rise owing to droughts and floods last year.

Each square kilometer of locusts in a swarm can eat as much in a day as 35,000 people, according to the FAO. One locust swarm seen in Kenya measured 2,400 sq. km.

“There is an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods” across the Horn of Africa, the FAO said.

David Mwangi, head of plant protection services at Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, said the locusts had primarily destroyed grazing land in counties in the northeast so far. Pesticides have been sprayed by planes in several counties to exterminate the insects, and the expectation is that the swarms will be contained there.

“So far, they have not gotten to the cropland,” Mwangi said.

“We are working hard to prevent them from spreading to food production areas.”

Kenya’s newly appointed agriculture minister, Peter Munya, announced on Wednesday that the government has allocated nearly $300,000 (£229,000) to fight the threat. As the swarms in Kenya haven’t yet reached maturity, Mwangi is optimistic about cutting off the worst threat — mature locusts laying eggs and giving rise to even larger swarms in a few weeks when they hatch.

“The locusts were so many,” said Abshir Mohamed Abdi, who works for the NGO Action Against Hunger and saw the swarms in Somalia. “When they landed on one crop, it would fall down.”

He said the swarms were another blow to farmers already reeling from natural disasters last year.

And the threat is not over yet. Swarms have laid eggs in northern Somalia that are now hatching and may migrate again, in even larger numbers, according to Abdurahman Hussein Ismail, a migratory pests expert and director of the Somaliland environmental and agricultural protection institute.

“Locusts are highly mobile and destructive,” he said, adding that they can travel up to 150 km per day. “The situation is very, very serious.”




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