By Wanambwa M. Rogers
1:17pm, Tues, 11 Feb 2020.
Last month, January 2020, a horde of about 360 billion desert locusts started swarming Kenyan lands laying to waste hundreds of square miles of green land. This included farmlands. The locusts, which also invaded Ethiopia and Somalia too have now reached Uganda and as of last weekend, they’re officially inside our borders. Here’s what is known about them so far:
What are they?
According to Wikipedia, the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is a species of locust, a swarming short-horned grasshopper in the family Acrididae. Plagues of desert locusts have threatened agricultural production in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia for centuries. In fact, even they have been around for a long time that they are listed as one of the ten plagues that Jehovah sent to the Egyptians in the Bible(Exodus 10:4. Else, if thou refuse to let my people go, behold, to morrow will I bring the locusts into thy coast).
Where did this latest horde especially, come from?
Climate experts have pointed to unusually heavy rains, aided by a powerful cyclone off Somalia in December, as a major factor in the crisis. The locusts arrived from the Arabian peninsula after cyclones dumped vast amounts of rain in the deserts of Oman – creating perfect breeding conditions.
Damage already caused
A single swarm of the insects can measure 40 kilometres wide by 60 kilometres long (25 by 40 miles), according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In Kenya alone, about 70,000 hectares of land in Kenya are already infested according to the Guardian. This unfortunately, does not include the damage they’ve caused in Ethiopia and Somalia. By this number alone, we as Ugandans cannot just sit back and do nothing. They’re also a major threat to Kidepo National Park, found in northeast Uganda and one of the biggest in the country where visitors can see giraffes, zebras and buffalos. Remember, tourism was the second biggest foreign exchange earner last year so this is a big deal.
What is being done?
“We are using motorised sprayers, a drone and manual sprayers,” Stephen Byantwale, the Commissioner for crop protection at the Ministry of Agriculture, said. “They [locusts] are spreading like wildfire, so they are a real, major threat.”
Also the FAO had earlier organized to raise around $76million to fight against them. The FAO said last week it had mobilised $15.4 million of the $76m requested to assist Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti. It said more funding would be needed if the outbreak spread to other countries, particularly South Sudan and Uganda.