A local tour guide holds a handfull of dead desert locusts after an invasion in Shaba National Reserve in Isiolo, northern Kenya, 16 January 2020 (issued 18 January 2020). Large swarms of desert locusts have been invading northern Kenya for weeks, after having infested some 70,000 hectares of land in Somalia which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has termed the 'worst situation in 25 years' in the Horn of Africa. FAO cautioned on 13 January 2020 that it poses an 'unprecedented threat' to food security and livelihoods in the region. The government is spraying pesticide in the affected areas to battle the insects. EPA/Daniel Irungu
A local tour guide holds a handfull of dead desert locusts after an invasion in Shaba National Reserve in Isiolo, northern Kenya, 16 January 2020 (issued 18 January 2020). Large swarms of desert locusts have been invading northern Kenya for weeks, after having infested some 70,000 hectares of land in Somalia which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has termed the 'worst situation in 25 years' in the Horn of Africa. FAO cautioned on 13 January 2020 that it poses an 'unprecedented threat' to food security and livelihoods in the region. The government is spraying pesticide in the affected areas to battle the insects. EPA/Daniel Irungu

The crops turned from green to yellow, that is how a farmer in Nyeri, central Kenya, described desert locust invasion of his coffee farm.

He recalled he had entered his house last Thursday briefly only to come out after hearing some noises and find his coffee crop was fully covered by the yellow insects.

“It happened in a flash,” George Kariuki, the coffee farmer said to Xinhua. “I could not believe that the crops that were green minutes earlier were all yellow.”

The locusts were in their thousands and were nibbling at the crops voraciously.

Having been caught off guard, Kariuki said he turned to hitting metal cooking pots and shouting.

His neighbors, also coffee farmers, resorted to similar antics but the insects were seemingly unperturbed.

The locusts have ravaged the crop – one of Kenya’s top foreign exchange earners – alongside tea and avocados in Nyeri and the neighboring Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Embu and Meru counties.

The crops are Kenya’s top agricultural exports, raking in for the east African nation millions of dollars every year.

Data from the Nairobi Coffee Exchange showed that the crop earned Kenya some 1.6 billion shillings (about 16 million U.S. dollars) in 2019.

Similarly, Kenya earned about 1.16 billion dollars from tea, according to the tea Directorate.

Earnings and production of both coffee and tea have been dwindling over the years, partly blamed on climate change, prompting President Uhuru Kenyatta to announce a revival plan in January.

For coffee, it includes upfront part payment to farmers upon delivery of coffee berries and setting up of a 30-million-dollar fund from which farmers can take loans.

The locust invasion threatens to wipe out these gains.

“They insects have destroyed my coffee crop. I am now left with twigs in the place where leaves stood,” said farmer Nahashon Njeru.

Beatrice Macharia, an agronomist with Growth Point, noted that locusts destroy not only leaves but also the fruits.

“For coffee, which is the same case as avocados, when they nibble at the berries, they leave poisonous sap inside that destroys them. Farmers may not earn in the coming months if the invasion is not contained,” she said.

Besides central Kenya, the insects have also invaded Kisumu in western Kenya, where sugarcane is the main cash crop and in Meru, where khat is grown and exported to Somalia and initially, Britain.

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s Locust Watch notes the situation remains extremely alarming in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia where widespread infestations and a new generation of breeding threatens food security and livelihoods in the region.

“Swarms continue to mature and lay eggs in northern and central counties where hatching and band formation are increasing. Aerial and ground control operations continue in most areas,” says FAO. Enditem

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