As locusts rage in the biggest attack for 25 years, the majority of Kenyans will never have seen the like, our average age being under 19. But the new invasion has also brought to a head the gulf in understanding that exists between those tasked with addressing the problem, and those only witnessing it.
To whit, on the decision to air spray. As it is, locusts move and breed in swarms. So effectively knocking them out requires that sprayers tackle the swarms directly and find the breeding grounds.
However, if the government cannot spray every locust across all the country’s regional air, that is not to say that it should stop reducing the locust numbers with the spraying it is doing. For every successful killing of a locust swarm saves millions of tonnes of food from destruction.
Do the sums and the merits become clear. In the sum, the basics: it takes locust from 10 days to hatch, and another 7 to 9 weeks to start laying their own eggs, so it’s roughly a two-month cycle. Each locust then lives for about three to five months eating its body weight every day, so around 75g a month, and females lay between 30 to 150 eggs over five weeks. Thus, every female locust in four months eats 300g herself, bears, say, 80 eggs that each eat 150g over two months, and half of which have laid 60 eggs by the end of that four months.
Without straining brains, that equals 744kg or three-quarters of a tonne of food being eaten per month by that one locust and its offspring within 16 weeks or so.
Thus, every locust that gets eliminated now, will save some ¾ tonne of crops from destruction per month, by April. Moreover, locusts can swarm at a density of 40 to 60 million per half square mile. Spray one half mile correctly and you save many millions of tonnes of food from destruction.
Yet, as the spraying proceeds, with the FAO recommended pesticides, not many people have joined the dots on how lucky we are that Parliament is in recess.
For, in the political adventure that is our post-2010 world, three NGOs have sought to move around legislative due process to get politicians to immediately ban 262 pesticides, including the active ingredient now being used to control the locusts.
The ingredient isn’t unsafe. It’s recommended by the UN body, its approved in the US, Australia, many other nations. But the NGOs have tried to get it banned on the back of a change in law in Europe. Yet, instead of proposing a bill that Kenya move to Europe’s new zero risk hazard assessment for pesticides, they have just gone to the parliamentary health committee and said Europe hasn’t approved these pesticides under its new regime, so we must ban them.
The new European regime will no longer approve any pesticide that could be a risk under any circumstance, not just in pest control: so if you personally drank a litre of the pesticide being used now in Isiolo, and ingesting it in large volumes made you vomit, that’s it: it cannot be used in minute quantities to stop locusts, under the new European rules.
Similarly, the pesticide that has stopped the destruction of 70 percent of our maize by the Fall Army Worm is on that banning list. So if that gets banned, you can forget about ugali too, on top of our locust swarms. We shall also lose anywhere up to 90 percent of our horticulture to everything from thrip onwards if those NGOs play mustard with parliamentary due process and impact assessments.
Indeed, I have written on this one before, for this is one that gets one grabbing for that emoji with the face slap hand: is Kenya really going to wipe out its agriculture for these NGOs? Can’t anyone wake up and do the numbers on the finished nation that will sit here in a year or two?
But there we are, let’s see if we can kill some locust until the politicians decide they are better alive, and I’ll just keep the face slap emoji well to hand.