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Columnists

Mix of strategies required in war on locusts, virus

A swarm of locusts block motorists' view
A swarm of locusts block motorists' view. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Weeks after Kenya reported the first case of Covid-19, the country woke up to the sombre news of its first death related to the virus outbreak.

The government has put everything in motion to ensure that we defeat this pandemic. But as the war against Covid-19 rages, we face another mammoth challenge.

Kenya is battling its worst infestation of locusts for the first time in 70 years. The pests have mostly affected north-eastern Kenya and are spreading. Most of these regions are some of the poorest rural parts of the country. Many households and farmers in the affected areas are struggling to adapt to the impacts of extreme weather events such as droughts and floods. Recently, Kenyan farmers have had to endure extreme weather events and pest infestation as a result of the changing global climate. If it is not a lengthy dry spell or extended period of rains that destroy crops, farmers have been forced to withstand pest infestations like fall armyworm.

As the locusts destroy the crops in the rural areas of Kenya, they are also affecting many people living on the margins. The loss of crops, farmlands and livelihoods due to pest and extreme weather has raised food security fears in Kenya. Smallholder farmers, who mostly feed the country, are the worst affected. Households in most of the affected areas rely on farming for their livelihoods. Failure to control these pests will mean loss of livelihoods, worsening food security situation and further suffering.

Reports indicate that there is widespread breeding of locusts in progress and new swarms are starting to form.

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Experts warn that these new swarms could last until June. The government needs to urgently act to safeguard smallholder farmers, households and Kenyans from food insecurity before it is too late. We are approaching the planting season. If the locusts persist, this would affect farming activities. And, postponing the planting season due to locusts will spell doom to livelihoods, especially in rural Kenya.

This is happening as the country stares down the barrel of the Covid-19 pandemic. While efforts focus on stopping the virus from spreading, there is a need to eradicate the locusts.

There is a growing need for coordinated efforts to control both the spread of Covid-19 as well as locusts to minimise the disruptive impacts these could have on our food systems and food security.

Many people are suffering unbearable losses from the locusts and now with the outbreak of Covid-19, there is a likelihood of further shocks.

The losses and distress provide Kenya with an opportunity to rethink these challenges and address them effectively. It is not the time to ignore any of these problems, especially if it exacerbates the situation like the locusts are doing.

Integrated interventions are necessary. The longer the locusts continue to breed and spread in the farms, the higher the risk of famine. There is an urgent need to eliminate them before they start wreaking further havoc. If food production is adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and locusts, the impact on Kenya’s food security could be grave.

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