Agriculture

Kenyan farmers suffer as COVID-19, locust invasion threatens harvest

COVID-19 pandemic has slowed the importation process leading to an inadequate supply of pesticides and equipment  

 
By Agatha Ngotho
Last Updated: Wednesday 08 April 2020
Locust invasion in Kenya. Photo: Agatha Ngotho

The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has become a major cause of worry for farmers in Kenya unable to sell their produce.

According to data from the agriculture ministry, vegetables and fruits markets have been functioning in limited capacity, with exporters shipping only 25-30 per cent of their normal capacity.

Several farmers on contract have reported losses as their produce is not being collected from their farms. Due to the lockdown in most countries in Europe, flower farms in Kenya have lost 70 per cent of their income in March.

Things have become more difficult in areas affected by locusts. Swarms were first reported in Kenya on December 28, 2019, having crossed the border from Somalia. Currently, desert locusts have invaded vegetation in 26 of the 47 counties in the country.

The country began work on controlling locusts in January, 2020. The agriculture ministry received Shilling 530 million from the national treasury to control desert locust spread, Cabinet Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperative, Peter Munya, said during a media briefing.

“We are focusing on these areas as we continue aerial spraying,” said Munya.

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed importation process leading to an inadequate supply of pesticides and equipment. But everything is not lost.

When the locust invasion began, protocols to locate, tag and monitor desert locusts breeding sites were put in place. In February, the United Nations-Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) trained 600 national youth servicemen for ground locust control operations.

“The pandemic lockdown has not affected their work because they are moving with security. They are offering essential services that are still operational,” agriculture principal secretary Hamadi Boga said.

There are plans to strengthen Kenya government’s desert locust control measures by training 30 trainers by April-end.

 “We have divided them into two groups. The first group was trained last week and the remaining one is currently being trained,” said Boga.

 They would then train 900 local operations team in the affected counties. These teams would carry out ground surveillance and control activities play a critical role in relaying data to control bases.

Kenya was warned about impeding locust invasion in February 2019. The FAO had said in a report that swarms could migrate from Yemen to Kenya and the Horn of Africa by the end of 2019 in the worst-case scenario.

“This could have adverse impacts on the agricultural seasonal yields and local economies, affecting food security and livelihoods of populations in the countries concerned, unless urgent preventive and control measures are established in the region,” the report said.

But Kenya failed to act on the warnings. The country is already experiencing food insecurity made worse by heavy rains that started in October 2019 and lasted till January 2020. The pandemic is only making things worse.

 “We are putting more focus on desert areas as we continue with aerial spraying. We have since received two additional aircraft from South Africa. Now we have nine such aircraft. One is for surveillance and the other for spraying,” Munya said.

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