Since the first coronavirus case was confirmed in Kenya on March 13, the measures to prevent its spread and the updates on new cases have rightly dominated the headlines. It has, however, relegated to the back burner another issue that is a major threat to the country — the locust invasion and its far-reaching implications on food production and food security.
Last week’s update by Agriculture secretary Peter Munya that the government was escalating its locust eradication measures by ordering an additional 100,000 litres of pesticide and deploying 20 aircraft to spray the pests was, therefore, a timely reminder of the threat the insects pose to the sustainability of agricultural production.
The two threats — locusts and coronavirus — are emerging as the most serious threat to food security. It is commendable that the government has been moving to map out the available food resources in recognition that we face the risk of food-insecure households if the movement restrictions remain in place for long.
First, the containment measures for the virus have inevitably disrupted food supply chains, with price increases still a possibility. Coming at a time when many Kenyans are unable to perform their day-to-day economic activities, and given the large number who depend on daily earnings to survive, it is of paramount importance that the country pays attention to the food situation as a priority.
Authorities should also be alive to the fact that farmers have reported they are having difficulties accessing planting inputs, including fertiliser due to the supply chain constraints.
We are, therefore, calling for enhancement of the measures already in place to protect food production and supply chains. First, it is imperative that the Ministry of Agriculture ensures that farmers get their inputs during this planting window, and in the case of fertiliser, to lock out cartels that routinely inflate prices.
In the same vein, new locust swarms must not be allowed to form from the newly-hatched hoppers. This will protect the next crop from devastation, now that the country’s food security hopes are pegged on the upcoming crop following last year’s destruction of farmlands by the pests.
On the supply chain end, care must be taken to ensure that the current restrictions, including the night curfew, do not mess up distribution of food.