Dozens of videos shared on social media over the past few weeks show swarms of locusts descending on north-eastern Kenya. Some of the videos show the desperate attempts of local people to drive them away by banging pots and pans, yelling, honking horns and even firing shots.
Wajir County is one of the areas most affected by this invasion and farmers there are terrified for their livelihoods.
'The locusts have literally eaten everything'
One of my farms was devastated by the locusts. They attacked the corn and literally ate everything, leaving nothing but the stalk. According to my initial estimates, we’ve lost at least 250,000 Kenyan shillings [Editor’s note: about €2,230].
There were so many locusts in the field that we think that the ground is full of bacteria and we’re afraid to plant anything. So we will likely abandon this site.
'Branches broke under their weight'
Ahmed B. is a cow herdsman in Wajir.
Right now, we are herding our cattle from one seasonal pasture to another. One night last week, a cloud of locusts descended on us. I watched as they ate all the grass. The branches of the bushes broke under their weight.
For the time being, we are trying to bring the animals to pastures that haven’t been affected by the locusts yet, but if this continues… will there be any left?
'It’s the worst invasion since 1957'
A local radio operating in Wajir city, the capital of the eponymous country, has been warning residents each time that a new wave of locusts descends on the area. Editor-in-chief Halima Kahiya has spoken to many local residents about the repercussions of this invasion.
This morning, a wave of locusts descended on the village of Shanta Abak. The local community decided to set the trees on fire in the hope that the smoke would chase them away and, inadvertently, they started a huge brush fire.
Around 40 million locusts have descended on our area since late December as part of 12 different waves, according to estimates by the authorities. It’s the worst invasion since 1957 and the worst invasion that I’ve ever seen [Editor’s note: Another, smaller invasion took place in 2007]. The government is trying to kill them by flying planes over the area to spray it with insecticide, but that hasn’t worked yet.
Everyone is worried, but livestock farmers are the most affected. The locusts seem to destroy more grazing land than crops. They eat the grass and leaves that our goats, sheep, cows and camels usually feed on.
The dry season was harsh this year and many cattle farmers struggled to feed their animals. Then, there were strong rains that revived the plants but attracted the locusts. The herdsmen are afraid that their animals will starve and become malnourished again
Before reaching Kenya, swarms of desert locusts swept the Arabian peninsula, Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea. One of the clouds of locusts measured 50 kilometres by 40 kilometres (2 000 km² or 772 square miles), according to the Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa, which is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Desert locusts are the most dangerous type of migratory pests in the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). They reproduce rapidly and can travel extremely long distances in short amounts of time. A swarm of locusts can completely destroy a farmer’s fields and all his sources of income in a single morning.
In recent days, the Kenyan government announced that it would increase its efforts to aerially spray affected areas with insecticide. The government admitted on January 16 that the insecticides it had initially used were ineffective. On January 18, authorities announced that they were going to start spraying the area with fenitrothion, a powerful insecticide most often used against mosquitos.
Aside from destroying fields, the locusts also make visibility difficult for pilots. On January 12, an Ethiopian Airlines flight had to be rerouted after locusts covered the windshield of the cockpit.
The FAO is afraid that the swarms will reach other neighbouring countries, including South Sudan and Uganda.
This article was written by Liselotte Mas