The Locust plague
devastating farmers in Kenya
Text and video by Maurice Oniango

Desert Locust Plague is Devastating Farmers in Kenya

Tharaka Nithi County, Kenya.

On a calm Thursday afternoon as Teresina Karen was going on with her afternoon house chores she noticed what appeared to be a dark cloud covering the daytime sky. Teresina assumed that it was clouds ushering in rain but her reaction turned to shock as she saw that the dark dense cloud was actually a swarm of desert locusts. They rapidly descended on her farm, destroying all her crops which she had just planted a few weeks ago.

Kenya: Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Farmers try to chase away swarms of desert locusts from a tree on their land by shaking branches, banging sticks together, and shouting. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Teresina who has been farming all her life expresses her shock at this extraordinary occurrence. “I have been a farmer for more than 50 years and I have never seen anything like this,” she says.

Just across from Teresina’s farm, screams and shouts can be heard breaking through the quietness and calmness of the village as the farmers try to chase away the locusts.

Kenya, Feb. 1, 2020. Desert locusts jump up from the ground and fly away as a cameraman walks past, in Nasuulu Conservancy, northern Kenya. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Agusta Karemi, a mother of two, is joined by her two daughters. They are all armed with cooking pots and sticks which they are hitting to make noise as they run around their farm. A frustrated Karemi explains that they have been doing the same thing over and over since the previous afternoon when the locusts arrived. “We have been doing this since morning, even the children have not had their breakfast,” she says.

Kenya, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. A farmer waves her shawl in the air to try to chase away swarms of desert locusts from her crops. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

However, even the screaming and making noise is an exercise in futility as the desert locusts just fly around and go back to their farms. “We have been screaming but that is just useless they go when we make noise and turn back when we stop or move,” says Karemi. This unconventional way the farmers are using is also damaging their household resources as they have been constantly hitting their cooking pans and plastic kitchenware. “We have even destroyed some of our cooking pans and cups because of hitting them,” she adds.

Kenya, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Farmer Kanini Ndunda reaches up with a shovel to shake tree branches to chase away swarms of desert locusts from her crops. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)land and threatening an already vulnerable region. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Kenya is reeling from the worst desert outbreak the country has witnessed in 70 years. This infestation has seen hundreds of millions of the insects swarm into the country from Somalia and Ethiopia, devastating pastoral life and farming communities. The locusts migrate with the wind and can cover up to 150 kilometers in a single day. A single swarm can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometers of farmland, an area the size of almost 250 football fields.

IKenya, Feb. 1, 2020. Ranger Gabriel Lesoipa is surrounded by desert locusts as he and a ground team relay the coordinates of the swarm to a plane spraying pesticides, in Nasuulu Conservancy, northern Kenya. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

According to a report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the desert locusts have invaded more than 26 of Kenya”s 47 counties as and are expected to continue spreading. The farmers are now disparaging the government for their woes. According to some of them, the government ought to have come up with measures that would have stopped the locusts from spreading in the country in the first place.

Kenya, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. A plane spraying pesticides flies over a swarm of desert locusts in Nasuulu Conservancy, northern Kenya. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Elias Ngori Nyaga is a Kenyan farmer who says that the government should now help them by bringing planes to spray and also give the farmers seeds and fertilizer as they had already used all their savings. “The government messed up because the locusts should have been contained from the point they entered through from Ethiopia. I appeal to them to come and help us contain them so that we can continue farming,” he says.

Kenya Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. Swarms of desert locusts fly above trees in Katitika village, Kitui county. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

According to the FAO, favorable breeding conditions for the desert locusts in Yemen as a result of cyclones in May and October of 2018 are to blame for the current wave of the pests. The locusts migrated from Saudi Arabia, Iran and to the horn of Africa spreading to East African nations. Other affected countries in the region include Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Eritrea and Uganda. FAO has also warned the situation is extremely alarming in East Africa, where 20 million people are already considered food insecure.

Kenya Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. A farmer’s son cries out as he is surrounded by desert locusts while trying to chase them away from his crops. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

The farmers lament that the desert locusts have brought immense loss and they fear that they will be facing a famine if help does not come their way. “If these locusts continue we will have a famine for many years. We had sold what we had from the last harvest to get school fees for our children and now we do not have anything to eat,” says Karemi.

Kenya Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. A farmer's son raises his arms as he is surrounded by desert locusts while trying to chase them away from his crops. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Catherine Wanja Nyaga is another farmer who says she lacks the words to express the loss she has incurred as a result of the desert locusts infestation on her farm. “I cannot even say the loss I have incurred but it is a big loss. I had planted one sack of beans, five bags of maize and I had put fertilizer,” she says.

Kenya Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. A farmer looks across as swarms of desert locusts feed on her crops. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Teresina appeals to the government to help them plant another round. “The government should help us with seeds and fertilizer so that we can plant for the second time,” she says.

Text and video by Maurice Oniango