Thousands face starvation in Turkana as locusts destroy crops, pasture

locust invasion
Elelea Village resident Aipa Epem points at locusts on a tree in June 2018. Locusts have destroyed crops on thousands of acres of land in Turkana and damaged pasture, reversing gains made in attaining food security. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Locusts have destroyed crops on thousands of acres of land in Turkana and damaged vegetation that livestock feed on, reversing gains made in attaining food security.

The hard-hit areas include Kibish Sub-County and the vast Turkana North region where several hectares of food crop have been damaged despite efforts by the county government to control the spread of the pest.

Turkana North MP Christopher Nakuleau Thursday said more than 250,000 people in the region face starvation after the pests wreaked havoc on the crops and vegetation.

Mr Nakuleau appealed to the county and national governments and humanitarian agencies to hasten distribution of relief supplies to famine-stricken families.

“The pastoralists have no pasture for their livestock that forms main source of food after the vast vegetation was damaged by the pest.

"Drought resistant crops like sorghum and millet was likewise destroyed by locust subjecting most households to severe food shortage,” said Mr Nakuleau.

According to June situation report, the tree locusts are migratory, trans-boundary and notifiable pests that prefer to attack acacia trees and prosopis, which are the major tree vegetation cover in Turkana.

The locust outbreak in the vast pastoral region was reported in June.

The county government procured more than 1,000 litres of chemical to control the spread of the pest, suspected to have invaded the region from Ethiopia.

“Most of the pastoralists and families have not recovered from the effects of the locust outbreak and require support from the government and humanitarian agencies in terms of relief supplies,” appealed Mr Nakuleau.

Unrelenting drought

He said the herders have migrated with their animals to the common border with Ethiopia and South Sudan in search of water and pasture due to unrelenting drought that has hit the area.

“Our intelligence report indicates that the Toposa militia have been mobilising themselves around Mogila hills in readiness for an attack against our people after they moved close to the border in search of pasture and water for their livestock,” said Mr Nakuleau on phone.

He named Mogila, Nanan, Nadapar and Kibish as some of the areas that have been hit by the renewed attacks due to conflict over water and pasture.

“We urge the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development [Igad] and other peace agencies need to support regular peace meetings to ease the mounting tensions,” said Mr Nakuleau, noting that counterattacks are impacting negatively to both pastoral communities.

Leaders in the region blame the ongoing fights in South Sudan for the proliferation of weapons into the country, fueling armed conflicts among the pastoralists.

They petitioned the government to put in place stringent measures along the porous Kenya-South Sudan border to check intrusion of bandits and contain upsurge of criminal activities.

“The increase of armed conflict along the common border is as a result of spillover effects of illegal arms into the country,” said Mr Nakuleau.

Recurrent attacks

He attributed recurrent attacks between Turkana pastoralists and their counterparts from Ethiopia and South Sudan to the influx of illegal arms into the country.

Several hectares of grazing fields in Ethiopia have been transformed into crop production, driving hundreds of Merilee and Nyong’atom pastoralists to invade parts of Kibish Sub-County in search of pasture and water for their animals, triggering fresh armed conflicts.

According to New York-based Human Rights watch group, about 100,000 hectares of land in Lower Omo valley has been earmarked for commercial agriculture -- for the cultivation of sugarcane and cotton.

But the Ethiopian government said it was engaging the public in the agricultural revolution.

A government official in South Omo zone said several hectares of land is under massive crop production under an irrigation system, which has resulted in scarcity of pasture for the pastoral communities.

The official disclosed that some Merrile have abandoned pastoralism and embrace agricultural production, which they consider to be more lucrative.

They grow such crops as maize, sorghum, millet, rice and fruits apart from commercial fishing activities in Lake Turkana.