Mealybugs. Photo: Twitter.
INTERNATIONAL - Aphids, white flies, mealybugs and thrips have been common pests in Kenya, with farmers managing to curb them over the years with available pesticides.

But these pests are currently turning out to be a major threat to food production in the east African nation as a lengthy dry spell emboldens them.

The pests have increased in severity and intensity in the recent months as a lengthy dry spell, one of the effects of climate change, boosts their breeding. The hot weather have offered perfect conditions for the pests to thrive and multiply as they become resistant to pesticides.

Joseph Kariuki, a farmer in Kirinyaga, central Kenya, is among those in the county who is currently battling increased whiteflies infestation.

The French beans grower said in a phone interview on Saturday that the insects invaded his one-acre crop about two weeks ago and despite him constantly spraying, they have not gone away.

"I have used three separate chemicals with different active ingredients. The first two which I have been using for years to curb the pests did not work this time. The third one seems to be working now," said Kariuki, who farms under irrigation.

Normally, the tiny whitish flies attack young, fleshy leaves feeding on them from the underside. As they feed, they also transmit diseases, but the main problem is that they secret honeydew that develops a dark mould on the leaves affecting photosynthesis, according to Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point, an agro-consultancy.

Besides French beans, which is mainly grown in Kenya for export, the pest also attacks leafy vegetables, tomatoes and a variety of fruits like paw paws and oranges.

Mealybugs and aphids are the other pests that are similarly ravaging various crops across the east African thanks to the hot weather. The worst affected farmers are in counties in western, central and southern Kenya.

David Macharia of Roy Farm in Isinya south of Nairobi, said the number of the bugs on their farm has increased in the past days, prompting them to increase the frequency of production.

"They are attacking our oranges, avocados and pomegranates. They have now become a real threat unlike before when we considered them minor pests," said Macharia.

Kenya's long rains season that starts in March and ends in May failed this year, according to the Meteorological Department. "The failure of the rains has come with severe consequences which include a hot weather that has made pests breed faster and become resistant," said Macharia.

She added that the current predicament is the typical manifestation of climate change and Kenyan farmers are already feeling the pinch. "This year is turning out to be the worst for farmers because the rains have been much scarcer and the pests are getting bolder," said Macharia.

She noted that the situation is increasing the cost of production for farmers as they have to spray their crops with pesticides more frequently.

"The increased usage of pesticides, while it kills the pests, however, poses a bigger threat to the environment, biodiversity and even consumers due to high residues in crop," she said, adding these are the effects of climate change that Kenyans now have to grapple with.

Other pests Kenyan farmers are contending with due to climate change, according to scientists, are Tuta absoluta that attacks tomatoes and Fall armyworm, which destroys maize.

XINHUA