Kenya is among the worst-hit countries in East Africa by the locust invasion. The desert locusts migrated from the neighboring country Somali through Mandera County. They have spread to 15 other counties, among them Wajir, Garissa, Isiolo, Marsabit, Samburu, Meru, Laikipia, Machakos, Baringo, Kitui and the most recent Murang’a and Tharaka Nithi. What can we do to control desert locusts?

 

Desert locusts can consume an equivalent of their body of green vegetation every day. The most unfortunate thing is that they consume nearly all kinds of plants ranging from crops to non-crops.

Facts About Desert Locusts

desert locust prevention in kenya

A desert locust.

Desert locusts are said to travel at an average speed of 17 km/hr and they can travel up to 130 km in a day. In 1988, desert locusts migrated from West Africa to the Caribbean, a distance of 5000 km in 10 days. They are mainly found in arid and semi-arid areas and they have three life cycles; egg, nymph, also known as hopper and then adult. The lifespan of a desert locust is 3 to 5 months and it can stay on the air for a long period. FAO estimates that desert locusts can destroy 29 million square kilometers of vegetation during plagues.

Effects of Deserts Locusts

The main impact of desert locust invasion is the destruction of vegetation, farm produce and grazing fields. Consequently, they pose a significant risk to food security since they are contributing factors to famine. Desert locusts can consume an equivalent of their body of green vegetation every day. The most unfortunate thing is that they consume nearly all kinds of plants ranging from crops to non-crops.

 

They feed on the leaves of trees, flowers and fruits. Besides, they also eat sorghum, millet, maize and bananas, reducing the produce. They can consume all thee vegetation until none is left posing a threat to both humans and animals. For instance, in 1958, Ethiopia lost 167 tones of cereals that could feed the country for a whole year.

Where experts are saying this invasion may very well be the result of climate change, desert locusts also contribute further to climate change. Trees and ground cover contribute to reducing the amount of carbon in the air. In addition, transpiration in plants takes place through the leaves. This helps in the maintenance of vapor within the atmosphere. Thus, when desert locusts invade trees and eat their leaves, the rate of transpiration and respiration in plants are highly altered.

How to Control Desert Locusts

aerial spray desert locust

Aerial spray is one of the methods for controling desert locusts.

Aerial Spray

Different methods can be used to control desert locusts and each has varying effectiveness. The Kenyan government’s first attempt to control the desert locusts was through aerial spray using aircraft in Marsabit and Wajir counties. Unfortunately, this did not work due to the fast movement of the locusts. After spraying the two counties on the first day, when the aircraft returned the second day, a swarm of locusts was spotted in Laikipia County.

The most common methods has been spraying with the use of aircraft. However, drones are now considered a viable option for early warning and prevention. Calling for the use of drones, the chairman of Entomological Society of Kenya, Dr Muo Kasina, has noted that the aircraft are not able to access certain areas like deep valleys and mountain contours, where some of the locusts may be passing.

Aerial spray is feasible compared to others if only all the areas can be spread at the same time, ensuring they have no place to escape to. However, the use of this method has been discontinued in areas with a large population of people since the insecticides used are harmful to human life as well as to nature and other life. Also, due to mutation, desert locusts have become resistant to pesticides. The method is also expensive.

locust control kenya

A drone spraying on a sugarcane field.

Predators and Parasites

Predators and parasites can be used to control locusts. Some of their predators include birds, beetle larvae and reptiles. Certain types of wasps, for example, attack locusts by paralysing them and bury them. To counter the large swarms of desert locusts, it is wise to release more predators to feed on them. This method is not effective by itself and hence, other control measures must be incorporated. The impact on locust numbers is usually small.

Traps

The other control measure is setting traps for the desert locusts. This can be achieved by digging trenches near agricultural farms to catch nymph bands that before they can mature. Once captured, they should then be buried. The method is also not sufficient by itself since locusts are often moving.

Desert locust can be used to prepare a meal. In some communities, people feed on locusts when fried, grilled, boiled or dried. Capturing locusts and feeding on them will help minimize their numbers. In some countries like Algeria, locusts are believed to help in curing diabetes. Apart from humans feeding on them, they can be fed to carnivores. This is an excellent way of turning misfortune into a fortune. This method can work well if there is a more significant population to feed on desert locusts.

locust swarms kenya

A tea plantation like this in Kenya faces a great danger from locust swarms.

GIS

Other methods that can be used to control desert locust is through the use of GIS technology to identify where desert locusts breed. This can be topped up with more studies to understand how locusts behave to develop their insecticides. Also, ground verification is necessary to know how much effect the locusts have on the vegetation. It is important to note that one control measure is not fully effective on its own. Hence, different methods are used hand in hand, like the use of radar aircraft to locate the direction of migration of desert locusts.

Traditional Methods

Farmers have been using several traditional methods in the absence of chemicals. These include beating drums, burning grass, shouting, singing, etc. Howevr, these methods are usually ineffective.

The reare video clip below shows Senator Kithure Kindiki chasing locusts by beating drums.