After years of fighting tsetse fly infestation around the Lake region, the residents around the water body have found a number of strategies to control the menace.
These measures have tremendously reduced tsetse fly infestation in endemic areas of Homa Bay County including areas surrounding the Lambwe valley like Sindo in Mbita Sub County, areas surrounded by the Ruma National Park, and Gembe region.
These regions are characterized by bushy environments and wild animals which provide a suitable breeding place for the flies. The tropical climate around the lake region is another favourable condition for tsetse flies invasion.
The distribution of these insects around Lake Victoria basin has been found to be dominant in recent years by research due to factors like temperature, humidity, rainfall, vegetation, and the presence of host animals who act as habitats for the flies.
The flies’ infestation was aggravated by encroachment of settlements to the national park, thereby creating problems for both animals and human beings.
These insects which feed exclusively on vertebrate blood, transmit trypanosoma that causes nagana in domestic animals and sleeping sickness in human beings where farmers are the most affected as their livestock are predisposed to tsetse fly bites.
The farmers have so far come up with various mitigation strategies and over a long period of time, they say, have been very effective against these insects.
According to Walter Ausa, they have found that spraying the cattle with pon insecticide have yielded results as he has been using the insecticides on his cattle after every six months which has proved to be very effective.
“I have been spraying my cattle for a period of six months using the commonly used pon pesticide which I buy at the veterinary in town, while at the same time the animals that have been bitten and are in poor health conditions can only get well if I inject them with a combination of servidium and vereben medicines,” says Ausa.
However these two methods are expensive in the market making them inaccessible to most farmers in the area.
He says that pon is sold at Sh.6, 000 per bag while the two used for injection are sold at a price not lower than Sh.2, 000.
Another farmer, Mark Otieno also shares some of the experiences he has had with the tsetse fly menace around the Lake, saying he personally lost two cows recently after the animals were bitten by the insects.
“The cows just started growing thin suddenly despite grazing them in rich fields. I tried insecticides but did not help much as the condition of the animals was already critical. They died within two days,” Otieno went on.
Having found out that his animals were lost to tsetse fly bites, he has since resorted to the ground control method which involves clearing of the bushes around his home and in the preferred grazing lands for his animals.
He further states that he does this since he is unable to afford insecticides and the medicines from the veterinary clinic.
The farmer explains that this method is effective because clearing the bushes which act as breeding grounds for the insects leaves them with no home and so they migrate to find new habitats.
“I have done this for three years now and so far I have not lost any of my livestock,” he points out.
According to research, the ground control method has been used before in the region by the government to help in controlling the insects.
For instance, during the outbreak of Rhodesian sleeping sickness in the Lambwe Valley in 1980, the government mobilised residents to help in land clearing as well as the application of dieldrin in the peripheries of Ruma National Park.
These interventions had impacts as the number of those suffering from sleeping sickness around that area reduced.
The International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) has also played a big role in their intervention in controlling tsetse fly infestations around the Lake Victoria basin.
The organization which has its headquarters in Ethiopia and a branch in Mbita is mainly known for its research on various insects.
John Mark, one of the residents of Lambwe region acknowledges the improvement that has been witnessed by those living around the area as far as problems caused by tsetse flies are concerned, since ICIPE started setting tsetse traps.
“Before they came here and set up those net traps for the tsetse flies, people used to suffer from sleeping sickness a lot but not anymore,” he says gesturing at the net traps nearby.
The residents, he says, have supported the initiative by providing space for the traps as well as staying out of reach of the structures.
Apart from research, the organization also has a department that deals with the eradication of harmful insects like mosquitoes and tsetse flies in the areas around the lake region and the hilly areas of the Lambwe valley, especially around Ruma National Park where the wild animals act as vectors.
Speaking to KNA, the head of the department of insect research and elimination Mr. Ibrahim Kiche says his organisation hopes to create a harmless environment for the residents around the lake region and the Lambwe valley by providing alternative ways of dealing with tsetse flies.
Kiche says they started the fight against the flies as early as the year 2010 with an aim of reducing the cases of sleeping sickness which had become a threat in the region.
One of the major methods they have been using until now is the use of tsetse traps which consist of insecticide-impregnated net structures which attract the flies and trap or kill them instantly.
The traps are usually set at a location where the flies’ population is huge to eliminate them in large numbers.
“We have to know where the flies are found in large numbers and that is where we set our traps in order to ensure we eliminate a large number of them,” Kiche says.
The strategies put in place by the ICIPE organization as well as the farmers’ association seems to have yielded fruit as the people living around the Lambwe valley and the lake Victoria basin have reported a significant reduction in sleeping sickness in human beings as well as nagana in animals.
“Our target now is the Lambwe valley region as the tsetse prevalence around the shores of Lake Victoria seems to have reduced tremendously in recent years,” he says.
By Nicholas Otieno and Sitna Omar