Large swarms of desert locusts have been devastating pasture, crops, and fodder fields in eastern Africa since at least September 2019. Farmers and herders in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda have been forced to stand by helplessly as the locusts stripped their fields of everything green.
Living in rural Kenya, Mwikali is one of these farmers. Like many residents in Kenya, Mwikali relies heavily on her 10-acre farm to provide for her family. You can see the sadness in Mwikali’s face as she recounts the events that have suddenly changed her life and that of her family.
“It was Wednesday afternoon on February 5, 2020, at around 3:30 p.m.My husband and I were seated outside our home after working on the farm all morning. Suddenly we saw a flock of birds resembling eagles flying over our house. This was very unusual, especially this time of the year. Seconds later, a massive swarm of locusts invaded our farm. There were so many that they looked like a dark cloud in the sky! They quickly descended on our farm. We went into deep shock! We have been farmers here our entire lives. In my 57 years, I have never seen anything like it!
“We had heard about the infestation in other parts of the country on the radio. Now we were witnessing the plague firsthand. Places like Mandera had been in the news since December last year, but we never thought the locusts would get to us. I was filled with despair because my crops were not even close to being ready for harvesting.”
The locusts stayed on her farm for two weeks, ravaging her crops and trees. Some of the insects died. The rest moved on. Mwikali and her family thought it was over.
“We were relieved. They were gone! We thought that was it, only to wake up to the biggest shock of our lives just two days later, on February 21.”
As she and her husband walked through their farm, they realized that their compound was completely covered by millions of black nymphs. The swarm had laid eggs that had hatched.
“These are the hungriest insects I have ever seen. They are feeding on everything, including the stem! They cover an entire plant, eat it from the ground, completely stripping it of any green matter. The entire farm is infested. More eggs are hatching every day. It’s a complete mess!”
When the locusts invaded her farm, Mwikali and her family desperately tried to chase the locusts away. They blew whistles. They started fires and blew the smoke at the farm.
All the children in nearby schools were sent home to help their families. They banged on tins and drums to make as much noise as they could, hoping to scare the locusts away. All their attempts were futile.
Mwikali had planted millet, cowpeas, green grams, sorghum, pigeon peas, sweet potatoes, maize, and cotton. She also had set aside a small portion of her farm to grow tomatoes, onions, and watermelons for her family.
The locusts destroyed everything.
“Usually, my crops are ready for harvest on my farm by the end of February. This year I was expecting a good harvest. Now, almost everything is lost.”
Mwikali depends on her crops to feed her family and to pay her children’s school fees. Now she is not sure what she will do. She has no food to feed her family, and her three children may be forced to drop out of school.
“At this time of the year, we should be clearing the farm for April rains and cutting sorghum and millet stalks so they can regenerate. But what do we cut? The locusts ate everything. We wake up every day and try to spray the hoppers. They are a nuisance. We are worried about our health because we don't know if the pesticides we are applying are safe for our children. We are on our own!
“The locusts are everywhere, in the farms, in the bushes, and even in the rivers. We fetch our drinking water from the Kalange river. We scoop into the sand to collect water for our domestic use, but now our source is contaminated. It is black, and it stinks. We don’t have any treatment methods, and we are not even sure if it’s safe for human consumption.”
Mwikali’s chickens are dying. The chickens feed on the locusts and then begin swelling. They become immobile and die within days.
“Is it the locusts or the pesticides? I have never seen such a disease in poultry in my lifetime.”
Mwikali plans to sell her livestock as the locusts destroyed any fodder for the animals.
“There is no pasture to graze my goats and cows.
“When a child is hungry, they call on their mother. What will I feed them on? I have no money to buy food! I’ll have to sell household items, livestock, and assets to buy food. The available livestock and assets can only take me so far. If the situation continues, my family will have to depend entirely on well-wishers for food. We have been reduced to beggars!”
ADRA Kenya, with support from ADRA Canada and the ADRA network, is responding to this disaster, helping families with cash transfers to help them meet emergency food expenses. Generosity toward ADRA’s mission continues to help families like Mwikali’s recover after devastating losses.