Spray planes combat the locust outbreak in East Africa

NASUULU CONSERVANCY, KENYA (AP) — As locusts by the billions descend on parts of Kenya in the worst outbreak in 70 years, small planes are flying low over affected areas to spray pesticides in what experts call the only effective control.

It is challenging work, especially in remote areas where mobile phone signals are absent and ground crews cannot quickly communicate coordinates to flight teams. The ground crews are in “the most woeful terrains,” a pilot and the director at Farmland Aviation Marcus Dunn said.

“If there is no network, then the fellow on a boda boda (motorcycle), he has to rush off now and go and get a network.” Just five planes are currently spraying as Kenyan and other authorities try to stop the locusts from spreading to neighbouring Uganda and South Sudan.

The United Nations said USD76 million is needed immediately to widen such efforts across East Africa.

A fast response is crucial. Experts warn that if left unchecked, the number of locusts could grow by 500 times by June, when drier weather will help bring the outbreak under control.

The finger-length locusts swept into Kenya from Somalia and Ethiopia after unusually heavy rains in recent months, decimating crops in some areas and threatening millions of vulnerable people with a hunger crisis.

Somalia’s agriculture ministry yesterday called the outbreak a national emergency and major threat to the country’s fragile food security, saying the “uncommonly large” locust swarms are consuming huge amounts of crops.

A plane spraying pesticides flies over a swarm of desert locusts in Nasuulu Conservancy, northern Kenya. PHOTO: AP