European activists are putting lives at risk in East Africa, turning a plague of insects into a real prospect of widespread famine. The fast-breeding desert locust has invaded Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, creating a state of emergency. The pests recently landed in Djibouti, Eritrea, Oman and Yemen. Swarms have also struck Tanzania and Uganda. They won’t stop on their own. According to the Food Agriculture Organization (FAO), “this is the worst situation in 25 years.
These beasts consume every plant in their path, leaving behind devastated croplands and pastures, and can migrate up to 150km in a day. They’ve already covered a million hectares in Kenya, with no signs of slowing down.
The human toll is staggering. Twenty-five million people have been left hungry, by Oxfam’s estimate. Yet, instead of rallying around African nations in this time of great peril, more EU-funded NGOs have descended on the Kenyan parliament to demand that the government disarm itself in the battle against locusts. They want the Kenyan government to outlaw the pesticides used to fight locusts, the only effective tool that can stop these insects, and prevent the crisis from spiraling out of control.
According to experts, a pesticide like fenitrothion will play a key role in eliminating locusts in Kenya and other African countries. Properly applied, it can thwart the desert locust swarms. But Kenya lacks the supplies it desperately needs. “The pesticide fenitrothion is very effective. It kills locusts within forty minutes to six hours of spraying,” says Salad Tutana, the Chair of Northern Kenya Locust Control Coordination team. Mr. Salad says they are experiencing a shortage of fenitrothion, but that fresh supplies of the pesticide have recently arrived from Japan.
More planes are needed for spraying. Currently, there are only five planes being used to spray the available insecticides.
Kenya has already set aside $2.5 million to combat locusts through spraying, but this is hardly enough as the situation continues to worsen. The U.N. FAO agreed to contribute $70 million to the spraying effort, but thus far only $15 million has made its way to the region.
Desperation in affected communities is real and more needs to be done. “We have resigned ourselves to crude methods, like shouting, burning tires, and blowing whistles, to chase away the insects,” Says Muthuri Murungi, a resident of Meru town in Eastern Kenya.
Africa’s agricultural community is still reeling from the incursion of another malignant pest, the Fall Army Worm, which in one year deprived Kenyan maize (corn) farmers of 70 percent of their crop. This voracious larval moth is kept in check in the Americas — where it is native — by pesticides and genetically modified Bt crops.
But, here too, the NGO activists are trying to dictate policies that will allow the insect plagues to continue, unchecked.
NGOs led by Route to Food — which opposes GMOs — is now pushing a proposal in Kenya to ban more than 200 pesticides — including those used against desert locusts and the Fall Army Worm. Route to Food was created in Africa in 2016 using taxpayer funds from the German Green Party’s Heinrich Boll Foundation.
This organization is advancing all the ideas currently fashionable in Europe, such as organic food mandates and opposition to modern crop technologies in the name of “agroecology.” Europeans can afford to pay the large surcharge to grow food with inefficient, organic methods. That’s not an option in Africa.
In effect, these Europeans want Africa to give up the idea of ever becoming an advanced world economy, or ever even reaching true food security. The “agro-ecology” fad embraced by European elites in international organizations — including some in FAO — extols “peasant farming” and the “right to subsistence agriculture,” as if that were some kind of ideal, while denying Africans the modern technologies used in countries like the United States and Brazil.
Route to Food isn’t alone. Another NGO, the Kenyan Organic Agricultural Network (KOAN), also sprouted from European seed capital. EU governments, through development agencies such as the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and the Dutch NGOs SNV and Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries (HIVOS, or Humanistisch Instituut voor Ontwikkelingssamenwerking in Dutch) have created this group to advance the business interests of the organic industry. Thus, KOAN is promoting bans of the pesticides Kenya needs to address these crises, but the proposal they back quite conveniently excludes from the ban the organic farmers’ favorite pesticide, copper sulfate, which is highly toxic. Why the double standards?
Copper, in its various compounds, is considered “natural” and thus is approved for organic production, but it is highly dangerous to humans and destructive to biodiversity. It accumulates in the soil and is a known carcinogen. In 2015, the EU put copper compounds on its list of “candidates for substitution” — meaning they are “of particular concern to public health or the environment.” The EU would have banned the substances long ago, except that organic growers, who dump them on their fields in truly astounding quantities, couldn’t survive without it.
Banning safer, more efficient modern pesticides, like locust-fighting fenitrothion, but allowing copper is a craven way for the organic interests to wipe out the competition.
Meanwhile, unless the locusts are stopped, it is African farmers themselves that will be wiped out.
The swarms are expected to multiply 500-fold in a matter of months, particularly as the rainy season hits in April and May. For the privileged elites of Europe’s capitals, pesticides and agricultural technology are a matter of life-style and virtue-signaling (and, sometimes, straight forward financial interest). Europe is rich enough to decimate its own agriculture and become even a larger net importer of food than it already is. For Africans without such a luxury, this is a matter of life and death.
Europe has been paralyzed by faddish, fact-free claims of activist NGOs pushing political agendas. It needs to wake up and see what happens when these anti-scientific doctrines descend on the African continent. The natural, organic world without pesticides or GMOs that they are promoting has arrived in Africa. It is a cloud of destruction.
The rest of the world needs to take action to prevent this crisis from becoming the worst form of tragedy — one that could have been prevented.
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Maarten Trybou Reply
Fenitrothion cannot be called a ‘modern’ pesticide, as it has been forbidden in Europe in 2007. It’s very toxic for the environment and humans. Especially when applying at large scale, the right pesticide should be selected carefully. It’s exactly the fact of using such dangerous pesticides that endangers African ecosystem and triggers ngo’s to act. Authorities should seek better advice, not only based on efficacy but also taking into account possible side-effects. I agree that food production must be protected but it’s painful to see that Kenya depends on logistics in it’s choice for pesticides.
LOL organic peasant farming. Read Mark Shepard ‘Regenerative Agriculture’ or Mollison ‘Permaculture’. Organic many magnitudes more efficient than conventional, #s to prove it. Multi tier, multi species, diversified Ag beats row crops w poison EVERY time. Just because you’ve never seen decent ops doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Your statements are EXTREMELY ignorant. Real talented agroecology, not BS green new dealers, is the future of Ag. It’s dummies like yourself we have to thanks for Covid, the genius of GMO. Lolol……re locusts….may be a situation where the cure (poison) outweighs the side effects, I’ll grant. That should be a choice, not a mandate.
Your number of deaths due to malaria in Africa per year (200 million) is grossly overrated. In 2018 that number was 405000, in 2017 it was 416000.
Many insects including mosquitoes have developed resistance against DDT. DDT is banned for a reason. It not only is damaging to wildlife, it also ends up in fatty tissues of humans and through mothers’ milk in fatty tissues of babies. DDT is an endocrine disruptor so not very safe for humans.
Clear and convincing article.
It is a dangerous thing when those with mad convictions about anything have the power and money to force their passions upon others.
In this case innocent farmers in less prosperous places.
There must be many commercial growing areas in Africa that can food at competitive prices that can be shipped to Europe.
But Europe’s, (especially France’s) protection makes it difficult, if not impossible.
This is not clear and convincing at all. He conveniently forgets to mention that Fenitrothion is not approved by the EU nor that it is not authorised by any EU member state. The disapproval was based on the advice of the European Food Safety Authority and they don’t do that without reason.
The locust is not the result of organic farming but is due to unusual weather which favors the grow and spread of the locust.
This author has other articles which show a strong bias against Europeans and European NGOs, making it sound as Europe does not want African agriculture to grow. He is not an expert in this field either but is a communication consultant. I find it curious that European Scientist gives a platform to him because he is obviously not a scientist in the field of pests and pesticides.
Fenitrothion is not approved by the EU and there is no authorisation either at national levels. So I guess this stuff is not so safe.
It seems like a good capitalist, unfettered by the government, could come up with a system whereby the locusts could be vacuumed into or captured by collection containers, starved, dehydrated then ground into protein powder or meal or eaten whole and be prepared for consumption by the myriad of famous TV chefs looking to draw viewers. Declare them a delicacy and rich westerners would probably trade corn for them. Worst case, the locals would have to eat them themselves. Even then, how well something tastes is directly related to how hungry you are. I am sure that hungry people would be grateful. Lemonade from lemons.
Although I have some sympathy with Mr. Njoroge’s argument, the fact that he is pushing the use of pesticides is primarily due to the fact that the natural predators of locusts have been eliminated by existing practices allowing for an imbalance to exist which allowed for the locust population to flourish. Pesticides are not a solution. It is a temporary measure to mitigate a more devastating situation. Similar to when you go to the emergency room. If you are having a heart attack, the measures that they will use will keep you alive but there are deeper lifestyle factors as to why you had a heart attack in the first place. Similarly, dousing pesticides across Africa farmlands is not a permanent solution to the locust problem. Beyond its destruction of flora and fauna, it has a devastating effect on insect and bird life and renders most of the nutrients available in the soil unavailable for the crops to absorb thus creating serious problems with diseases caused by nutritional deficiencies as well as exposure to toxins. So if you want to dump pesticides on african farmlands do it in full knowledge that you are not solving the problem but simply displacing the problem of locusts into other areas.
Whom to believe with these two contrasting views? Mind you, I’m always suspicious of anything emanating from the EU who seem to put environmentalism before people and for whom practicability seems a minor concern.
I think that this is quite eye opening.
Nothing new! Look at what happened after Rachel Carson campaigned against DDT. Originally, African famiies could control Malaria by spraying inside their houses, Now it is banned, we note over 200 million deaths from Malaria in Africa each year – mainly due to misplaced enviromentalism.