Isabel Mberia points to corn crops on her farm in Tigania in the Meru region of eastern Kenya.
The morning air was filled with a muffled, buzzing cracking sound.
Instead of the usual green that people expect, the plants are filled with brownish-yellow grasshoppers chewing on the leaves and growing corn cobs.
“When Kenya was attacked by grasshoppers last year, we survived. They didn’t reach here, but this whole year we woke up one morning and people could barely see the sun, ”Mberia, 61, told Anadolu Agency. “There are millions of grasshoppers everywhere. Some people in the market said they had just migrated but they were still here eating it all. “
Its prized mango tree, among others, is in its fields, filled with grasshoppers. The tiny ancient creature that has been a nightmare for farmers since time immemorial is chewing on flowers, fruit, seeds, leaves, and even tree bark.
“There’s not much we can do about them. We tried to get rid of them but there were too many of them, ”said Mberia. “We’ve never had a food problem here. Together with my husband, in over 40 years of farming, we have never seen anything like it. This is the worst plague we have ever seen. Now food is very expensive because all of our food is being eaten. “
Farmer Anne Kagendo, 48, also counted the losses and bemoaned the locust invasion that led to food shortages.
“They eat tomatoes, potatoes, corn, various beans, even cotton … who knows that grasshoppers eat cotton … even my neighbor’s wheat and bananas have been eaten,” he said. “This is clearly a biblical plague. I have never seen anything like this, they are merciless and hungry all the time. ”
Thousands of farmers in Meru Regency are counting huge losses because desert grasshoppers destroy agriculture every day. Locusts arrived at a time when most of the produce grown in eastern Kenya was ready to be harvested.
Farmers in Meru are among hundreds of thousands from 14 other districts of the 47 that make up Kenya, which was hit by a second wave of locust outbreaks that were twice as deadly as the one that hit Kenya in 2020.
The government said it had deployed spraying and surveillance planes to help deal with the pests and noted it had sufficient resources and was better equipped than 2020 to fight back.
Government spokesman Cyrus Oguna is pushing for collaborative efforts with Ethiopia and Somalia, from where grasshoppers migrate to Kenya, to eradicate pests.
“If Kenya is actively containing or combating locusts, it may not mean much if neighboring countries do not do the same,” he said in a statement.
Agriculture Minister Peter Munya told reporters that more than 75 herds had been reported in Kenya.
“We can’t fight grasshoppers in Somalia and Ethiopia where they breed. “What we can do is fight them in Kenya, because they are breeding in Kenya, it should be noted that the war against grasshoppers might last until June,” he said.
Armed with an estimated budget of 3.2 billion shillings, or $ 30 million, set aside to fight a second wave, Munya said Kenya was well equipped to fight the swarm and promised that in countries where livelihoods had been affected, governments would step in and offers crop and livestock interventions that include distribution of seeds and cereals, clean water and fertilizers among others.
The desert locust is considered the most destructive migratory pest in the world, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
A one-square-kilometer swarm, a little over a mile and a half, contains up to 80 million locusts and can eat the same amount of food in one day as about 35,000 people. The number of grasshoppers increased 20-fold in three months with each new generation.
At the Mulika market in Tigania, residents complain that even though the government has guaranteed everything will be fine, food shortages have occurred.
“The price of foodstuffs, especially our basic needs … mostly vegetables, has increased three or even four times,” said Kagwiria Juliet.
He noted that residents are now forced to eat lots of cereals that have been dried and preserved.
However, the poultry business is booming.
“Our business is doing very well because grasshoppers are a good food source for poultry,” said trader Timothy Munya. “Birds love grasshoppers. We are not sure if we can meet the demand and many people choose foods like chicken because it is cheaper. “
The intensity of East African desert locusts has also been blamed on climate change with a focus on Cyclone Gati that hit the Somali coast in the Indian Ocean in November last year, the FAO said.
The East African food basket region receives heavy rainfall during the summer, promising farmers good yields and providing plentiful grazing land for nomadic herders.
But the torrential rains also provided food for the locust swarms that originated in Yemen, moved to Somalia and spread across East Africa.
Etienne Peterschmitt of the United Nations said in a statement: “Rain and wind are the two most favorable conditions for desert locusts to reproduce rapidly and spread over areas where they have been controlled.”
In Kenya, where grasshoppers have ripped through more than a quarter of counties across the country, nomadic farmers and herders have been left destroyed.