The Department of Biology hosted an international webinar on ‘Managing 2019/2021 desert locust upsurge: The Kenyan experience’ on March 10th, 2020

In his opening remarks the Vice-Chancellor Prof. Kiama noted when the country was confronted with desert locust invasion in December 2019, the University of Nairobi stepped forward and provided highly trained scientists to support the government in the management of locust menace. Also, UoN staff from crop protection-related thematic areas were included in the Multi-Institutional Technical Team (MITT) formed by the government to lead the process. The Vice-Chancellor also noted the University, on request by the PS Agriculture, Prof. Hamadi Boga, released a member of staff to support the control process.  He urged the University and other key stakeholders to develop viable and sustainable approaches to help the community manage these pests whose impact on food security is already very detrimental in the Horn of Africa region. Prof. Kiama also noted in order to manage the locust situation, there is a need to formulate short courses focusing on equipping country management teams with basics skills of Desert Locust survey and control. This will be done with Key stakeholders like FAO and Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA) on the nature of the curriculum that would be suitable for the above themes.

The guest speaker was Keith Cressman a Senior Locust Forecasting Officer at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN FAO). Mr. Cressman started by giving a synopsis on the Desert locusts that entered the Horn of Africa in 2019. The most affected countries were Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. Kenya had not experienced a locust invasion in 70 years while Somalia and Ethiopia had not had locust invasion in a quarter of a century. Mr. Keith noted locusts are very destructive in that a small locust swarm can contain up to 40 million locusts capable of eating the same amount of food in a day as about 35,000 people. To contain the locusts FAO supported by mobilizing communities, training youth in ground surveillance of swarms and using satellite-based tools to track the locusts in real-time. Mr. Cressman was also keen to note that we cannot control weather patterns like cyclones which result in an upsurge of desert locusts, but we can control the locusts. He concluded by giving an update on the desert locust situation saying there is good progress made as there are no more swarms coming into Kenya from the north. This means 800 million crop production has been saved and 28 million lives protected.

Assistant Food & Agricultural Organization Representative (FAO) Hamisi Williams spoke on the steps that have been made in resourcing and control on the Desert Locusts. To curb the spread of locusts the government received funding of $25.9M out of the $32.1M required.  During the first wave, the government used pesticides, aircraft sprayer equipment, vehicles and GPS devices to contain the situation. The second wave was expected to arrive in Kenya by December 2020 but due to conflicts in Yemen, Ethiopia and Somalia which distracted control plans, the country started experiencing the second way on 7th November 2020.  Mr. Hamisi noted some of the measures that have been taken include space and survey aircraft for aerial control and training scouts, young professionals, national youth service, and the use of downloaded apps that can be used in non-network coverage areas for ground control. In conclusion, Mr. Hamisi noted in order to forge the way forward and prevent future invasion, there is a need for the domestication of desert locust control as part of the curriculum in Kenyan institutions of higher learning, there is also a need to have and maintain the infrastructure even with no invasion, adequate training for local experts and long term management desert locust management strategy.

The dean school of biological Sciences Dr. Catherine Lukhoba urged researchers to come forward and partner with the school and students on pest control. The school is willing to partner with such institutions and researchers to come up with ways of regulating and management of such pests that impact adversely on human activities.

The webinar was well attended with over 90 participants from across the globe.