Swarms of locusts have invaded Bukwo District in Sebei Sub-region, destroying several hectares of food crops and vegetation.
The locusts entered the district on Tuesday evening through Riwo Sub-county, which neighbours West Pokot County in Kenya.
The Bukwo District Production officer, Mr Franklin Kitiyo, yesterday said the swarms could be the biggest arrival.
“The situation is very bad and I think, this is the biggest swarm in the country. It has damaged hectares of crops and vegetation in the affected areas in the district,” he said.
He added: “When you look at the trees such as eucalyptus, pines, Cyprus, Grevillea, among others, you might think they are flowers yet it is the patches of locusts. It’s terrible,” he said.
The insects, which first entered through Amudat District early this month, have since spread to Moroto, Nabilatuk, Nakapiripirit, Napak, and Abim in Karamoja Sub-region.
Another swarm of locusts was seen in the neighbouring Lagoro and Omiya Anyima sub-counties in Kitgum District and another one in Agago District, which later flew to Karenga and Kaabong districts.
Early this week, another swarm was reportedly cited in Kumi District and now the pests have spread to Sebei Sub-region in the districts of Bukwo and Kween.
The pests have since devastated crops and vegetation in the sub-counties of Riwo, Kabei, Mutushet, Kamet, Lwongon, Tulel, Chesowor and Riwo.
Some of the crops that have been damaged include, Irish potatoes, cabbages, and banana plantations.
Mr Kitiyo said they have written to the Ministry of Agriculture and the Office of Prime Minister for immediate intervention.
He added that the ground spray team had started arriving.
“We have seen the soldiers have arrived and we have been told the plane is coming for aerial spray. We are on ground but we are incapacitated as a district,” he said.
Mr Kitiyo said there is fear of looming hunger because Sebei Sub-region is the food basket for the eastern region.
“The farmers had already started planting vegetables along the rivers and all of them are now at risk of being destroyed,” he said.
The Bukwo Resident District Commissioner, Mr Tom Chesol, said locusts took the locals by surprise.
Mr Chesol said: “The locusts are in millions and we may not have capacity to fight them as a district but good enough Uganda People’s Defence Forces are already on ground and we expect spraying to start soon,” he said.
Mr Paul Reuben Chelimo, the Member of Parliament of Kongasis County in Bukwo District, said government knew the locusts were coming but did nothing.
“The government knew about the invasion but they did nothing to stop the locusts from crossing over. They would have deployed along the border but they did not, that is why they are now reacting to the situation without viable measures to contain the locusts,” he said.
Mr Chelimo said the invasion has worsened the threat of acute hunger in the regions, especially Karamoja.
“Sebei is the food basket of this country given its soil fertility but now with the invasion of locusts, we are not sure of what lies ahead of us,” he said.
The State Minister for Animal Industry, Lt Col Bright Rwamirama, said government has procured 10,000 litres of Fenitrothion and a phosphorothioate insecticide for aerial spraying.
“We have procured the chemical and it will be in the country in three days. Food and Agricultural Organisation has offered us free transport to airlift the pesticides from Nairobi to Soroti,” Lt Col Rwamirama told journalists in Kampala on Tuesday.
The minister also said two aircraft have been secured.
Government explains delay
Agriculture minister Vincent Sempijja yesterday said the aircraft government got for spraying locusts is still being serviced in Nairobi and that it would arrive in the country latest today morning.
“We were assured [by Kenyan authorities] that after proper servicing, the aircraft will be released,” Mr Sempijja told Daily Monitor yesterday in a telephone interview.
He said the plane left Wajir County, the area where it was being used to spray locusts in the northeast part of Kenya, on Tuesday for the servicing.
Ever since locusts invaded Uganda last week through Kosike, Amudat District, the teams established by government lack an aircraft, a response equipment experts say is the most central to fighting bigger swarms.
Last Tuesday, government released a press statement saying the aircraft was going to reach the country by end of last week. “The first aircraft for spraying will arrive in Karamoja on Friday or Saturday [of last week],” the press statement read.
Lt Col Bright Rwamirama, the State Minister for Animal Industry, while addressing journalists on Tuesday in Kampala, promised that the aircraft was arriving within this week after chemicals for aerial spray have been delivered.
He said it was unreasonable to bring the aircraft without chemicals for the aerial spray.
Lt Col Rwamirama said it is expensive to maintain the pilots, worst still when they are not working. His argument was, however, a contradiction to a subsequent media statement from Mr Musa Ecweru, the State minister for Disaster Preparedness, who said the Kenyan authorities had informed him that the planes were already engaged in spraying locusts in Wajir.
By Tonny Abet