Rain, regional conflict risks returning Dessert locust threat

The good rains risk creating the perfect conditions for breeding dessert locust at a time when regional coordination for fighting the cross border menace is at its lowest as East Africa is plagued by widespread conflict.

Experts released the 65th Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum warning that as the rains persist in the region, the conditions might become favourable for desert locust infestation in the region.

However conflict, that has rocked Ethiopia, Sudanese civil war, resurgence of terrorist activity in Somali and the Yemen crisis will make it difficult to coordinate cross border fight against the pests.

Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) experts track how the pests are migrating from the region from Yemen, South Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, and Ethiopia before developing early warning information

Desert locust invasion

Kenya is currently free from Desert Locust after two consecutive invasions in 2019 and 2020 after the country spent more than $200 million was spent in tackling the 2019-2021 desert locust invasion, across more than 200,000 hectares in the over 20 affected counties.

Since 2019, the country relied on pesticides containing the highly toxic Fenitrothion, Chlorpyrifos and Fipronil ingredients to kill millions of locusts that infested Kenya.

While spraying to control locust invasion helped protect food it poses environmental and health risks.

Fenitrothion for instance, is a non-selective insecticide known for its toxicity to reproductive systems, as well as altering the hormonal system in humans. Its toxicity  extends to aquatic species and bees which are essential in food production.

Chlorpyrifos on the other hand affects brain development especially in children, reproduction and the nervous system. It also has high toxicity towards aquatic species, bees, terrestrial insects and birds. For this reason, it is categorised as a highly hazardous pesticide. Whereas Fipronil is also poisonous to fish and bees, it is the most persistent (length of time in the environment) insecticide used in locust control.

This has led to criticism by environmental lobbies for using the chemicals known for its toxicity to reproductive systems, as well as altering the hormonal system in humans, affecting brain development and nervous systems especially for children.

Read also: Met confirms El Nino rains expected in October through 2024

Synthetic pesticides

Kenya has expressed the desire to reduce synthetic pesticides to control locusts signing a declaration by Igad to move toward biopesticides that are less harmful.

The country is hoping to deploy a technology developed by the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe), Catholic Organisation for Relief and Development Aid (Cordaid), and funded by the Netherlands Postcode Lottery (NPL) targets mass rearing of edible insects and processing them into products that fortify animal feeds, offering an alternative to costly feeds at local agrovets..

Counties in arid and semi-arid (Asal) areas stand to benefit from a new technology developed to process insects such as desert locusts and crickets into food for both human and livestock consumption.

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