If you read the international news on Africa this past weekend, you probably noticed that Time magazine (here), The Guardian (here), New York Post (here), The Japan Times (here), and the Financial Times (here) ran a similar story about the worst swarms of locusts currently spreading in Kenya.

The estimates suggest that 70 000 hectares of land in Kenya has thus far been invested by these locusts, and thus threatening the agriculture sector. The Kenyan authorities seem to be struggling to control the spread of these locusts, which means it could spread to a number of regions in the coming weeks.

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has also warned about the potential threat these locusts pose to Kenya’s food system (see here). The FAO has called on the international donor community to assist, acknowledging that the local authorities are not moving at speed required and also not endowed with resources needed to curtail this impending crisis.

I use the word “crisis” intentionally. Kenya’s food system is already fragile. The country experienced drought in 2019 which saw its maize harvest falling 15% y/y to 3.4 million tonnes. Kenya utilizes about 4.7 million tonnes of maize a year, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture. Therefore, the decline in domestic maize production saw the country needing maize imports of 1.3 million tonnes in a marketing year that ends in April 2020 in order to meet its annual needs. I don’t know how much they have managed to import thus far, as the 2019/20 marketing year will only end in three months’ time from now.

I was hopeful that 2020 could be a recovery year and Kenya’s maize import needs could be reduced. The spreading desert locust swarms locusts, however, threaten to bring the country back to food shortage challenges. Also, worth noting is that Kenya is not alone in this challenge. Ethiopia and Somalia are also at risk. This is a bad time for East Africa’s agriculture.

The effective way to control the spread of these locusts will be aerial spraying of pesticides. But that needs money, about US$70 million, according to the FAO estimates. I imagine the small-scale Kenyan farmers might not be able to cover such costs. Hence, the government and international donors will have to assist the affected communities.


Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail: wandile@agbiz.co.za

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