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Address locust plague to avert food shortage

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The government’s response to the locusts ravaging parts of the country is appalling. Weeks since the insects raided northern Kenya, the government, particularly the Agriculture ministry, has demonstrated slovenliness and sheer inability to tackle the menace, making long statements but doing pretty little.

Some of the statements and actions were eerily comical and, were it not that this is a matter that touches on food security, they would be dismissed with the contempt they deserve. Since-sacked Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri terribly bungled, flip-flopping with statements about one intervention after another but not addressing the problem. Security personnel took to shooting the insects with others blowing whistles to scare them away — arguably pretty primitive interventions.

Yet there is enough knowledge and resources to methodically deal with the plague. Researchers have observed that the country first blundered when it failed to take notice of early warnings and put in place pre-emptive interventions to forestall the invasion and spread of the insects in our territory. Experts had warned that the insects were ravaging the Horn of Africa countries of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia and, given their trajectory, were bound to descend on Kenya. Despite that intelligence and geospatial information, there was no quick response to lock them out, even though Kenya has no breeding grounds for the insects, meaning, we could have stopped their spread across our borders.

At this point in time, we are dealing with a crisis because the insects are spreading fast across counties. In the circumstances, the best option being suggested is chemical spray. But that has its disadvantages as it risks harming non-targeted organisms and, hence, must be deployed cautiously. The bottom line is, we need urgent, decisive and well-thought out solutions to the hazard.

The locusts present a major threat to the country’s food sufficiency. For months, it has received torrential rains, which, though occasioning some destruction, gave good promise of a bumper crop production. Farmers have been looking forward to better times and, against the backdrop of severe drought early last year, the rains were a blessing… only for the insects to swarm in.

Matters are worsened by the fact that the voracious locusts have invaded northern Kenya, a region that’s permanently food-starved and which, therefore, faces a double tragedy. Food output is a perennial challenge, even in the best of times, when the rains are adequate, and the locusts compounded the problem.

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We’re in a crisis and must act resolutely. We ask President Kenyatta to take charge of the situation and direct interventions. Financial, logistical and technical resources should be unlocked and unleashed to contain the pestilence.​