As It Happens

Kenyan farmers traumatized as swarms of locusts devour crops in seconds

Billions of locusts have been tearing across East Africa, decimating crops in their path.

UN warns of potential 'catastrophe' as billions of locusts consume crops

Men attempt to fend off a swarm of desert locusts flying over a grazing land in Samburu County, Kenya. (Njeri Mwangi/Reuters)
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Transcript

The locusts are so bad in some parts of Kenya that entire fields of crops are being devoured in as little as 30 seconds. 

Moses Omondi, a program officer at Farm Radio, a charity that works with to bring information and news to farmers, says that in Kitui County, in eastern Kenya, there were no locusts this time last week. Now, entire farms have been destroyed. 

Here's part of his conversation with As It Happens host, Carol Off. 

What stories are you hearing from farmers about what this locust infestation is doing to them? 

Today one farmer [told me] all of his crops have already been consumed. 

He is affected psychologically to the extent of telling me that, 'If worst comes to worst, I can even commit suicide.' The reason being, this is the source of his income. He's been taking his kid to school using farm produce. He's been paying bills using farm produce. So according to him, he [says], 'Moses, if this continues — if the government is not coming to act — then I'm thinking of committing suicide.' 

Most farmers are disturbed psychologically. Others are thinking that maybe it's a curse from God. 

Locusts swarm from ground vegetation as people approach Lerata village, north of Kenyan capital, Nairobi. (Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images)

What are they trying to do ... to see if they can scare these locusts away? 

Currently what most farmers are doing is ... drumming.

Others are using whistles. They're blowing the whistles from morning to evening. Some are even taking their lunch and breakfast and probably dinner ... blowing whistles. Others are [using] motorbikes by pressing on the horns to scare the locusts. Others are being helped by police reservists ... shooting guns so that the locusts can be scared. Others are shouting — literally shouting — the whole family, shouting on the farm to scare the locusts away. 

What is it like? What's the experience of being in those clouds of locusts? 

It's fun in the sense that when you're running through the locusts they'll come and ... try to prick you. 

But to some extent, it's not fun, because when you look at the amount of crops these locusts are consuming you [want to] cry, because this is what ... entire families depend on in terms of food security and all that. And, you know, the rains are not there. 

That means probably in the next six months or so, entire families will experience hunger. 

One of the things we understand from the interviews we've done about this is that ... the locusts are coming from places like Yemen and Somalia where there's war going on, where there's failed states. They can't stop the locusts ... And that all the different places where someone — some government — might act ot stop the locusts, they don't. So what's required here ... to stop these locusts from destroying all this food? 

As of now, especially the government of Kenya is thinking of pest management methods involving ground and aerial control ... using tested and registered chemicals that are not harmful to humans and the environment. Unfortunately, most farmers have a fear of the unknown.

They have a fear that maybe the pest management will be harmful to the soil, which in turn will bring more harm. 

The UN has warned that the outbreak is extremely dangerous and an eminent threat to food security in months to come if control measures are not taken. (Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images)

Just finally, what are these farmers and their families faced with? If these crops are destroyed — and that seems to be the case — what will they do for a food supply? What's the immediate future like for these farmers who are having their crops destroyed? 

The future is not bright for these farmers.

[One farmer] was telling me that, 'You know what Moses, we are left to eat from the remnants of what the locusts have already consumed.' Which, in turn, they're not sure whether that's safe or not. No one is talking about that. 

In terms of their future, it's really not bright and there's nothing left to smile about ... especially the ones with small kids. Those are the ones who are really suffering most. And also the women, you know, the widows. 

They really don't have an alternative at all. 


Written by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes and Jeanne Armstrong. Interview produced by Jeanne Armstrong. 

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