Kenyan farmers ready for harvest despite locust threat

In about two months, Geoffrey Ambuche who farms in Kitale, western Kenya, would be harvesting his maize crop.

He planted the crop at the height of the locust invasion in mid-March in the east African nation, with the pest having invaded parts of the region that is Kenya’s breadbasket.

“The crop has done well due to heavy rains that started in March and are still continuing in some areas. I harvested beans this month and they too did well,” he said.

Ambuche is among farmers in Kenya who are expecting a bumper harvest this season, having overcome fears of locust invasion to plant various crops.

The ravenous pest invaded Kenya in December 2019, spreading fear among farmers as they devoured acres of crops and spread across the country.

But clinging onto hope, undeterred Kenyan farmers went ahead and planted various crops, including the staple maize at the onset of the rain season in March.

Those who planted short-cycle crops like vegetables, beans, capsicum, tomatoes, green grams, pigeon peas and onions have already harvested and some have gone for another season.

Similarly, maize farmers are expected to start harvesting in August, with a majority of them set for a bumper harvest as the locust threat remains severe in the northern part of the east African nation.

While the insects in early 2020 spread in different parts of the country in particular central, eastern and the North Rift, ravaging crops, heavy rains in the region drove them away.

They have since concentrated in northern counties of Mandera, Isiolo, Marsabit and Turkana where pastoralism is the main economic activity.

The locusts are ravaging mainly pasture in the regions that are mainly arid and semi-arid.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, a second generation of immature swarms has started to form in northwest Kenya.

“Swarm formation will continue for about four weeks while the bulk of the swarms will form during the second half of the month. Prior to migration, swarms will remain for a short time during which there is a considerable threat to crops and pastures in Turkana and Marsabit counties,” says FAO in its latest update.

While experts have warned swarms of the insects may spread from the north to other parts of the country to coincide with harvesting, the last three months when the insects remained in the north have given farmers in other parts of the country time to grow crops unfettered.

“I planted pigeon peas and they are almost ready for harvesting,” said Beatrice Ngari, a farmer in Tharaka Nithi. When locusts attacked the semi-arid region and neighboring ones in February, they caused panic.

They devoured various crops that they found on farms, but undeterred farmers planted again when they left.

“They destroyed my green grams that I had planted late 2019 but I gained courage and planted in late March when the rains started and the gamble has paid off,” said Ngari.

In Nyeri and Kirinyaga counties in central Kenya where the locusts attacked cash crops like avocado, coffee and tea, resilient farmers are reaping from their courage to plant even as the threat of attack hangs over the east Africa nation.

It is a similar case in Bungoma and Kisumu in western Kenya and in Nyandarua and Meru in central Kenya where the insects attacked crops early in the year.

“Yes, farmers managed to overcome the initial fear of the insects and planted. The heavy rains in most parts of the country not only gave farmers the motivation to plant but also drove the locusts away in most parts of the country to their breeding grounds in the north where they remain,” said Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro-consultancy.

She noted that Kenya will still produce plenty of food this season despite the locust threat.