Safari insistent locust situation won’t affect rally

UN food and agriculture body has warned of "unprecedented" scenario in East Africa


Just when you thought things couldn’t get any more surreal, it appears the Safari Rally World Rally Championship round is now facing a threat caused by a storm that hit Oman almost two years ago.

Astonishing as it sounds, Mekunu – a 110mph cyclonic storm which landed in the Middle East in May, 2018 – delivered near perfect breeding conditions for locusts. Locust numbers then grew in their biggest numbers in more than 50 years and moved across into East Africa.

Those locusts are affecting Kenyan agriculture as they eat the crops and the nation’s wider economy.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has talked of an “unprecedented” situation across Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.

Keith Cressman, locust forecast expert for the UN’s FAO said: “That [second cyclone] allowed the conditions to continue to be favourable and another generation of breeding, so instead of increasing 400-fold, they increased 8000-fold.”

Speaking to DirtFish on Monday, Safari Rally CEO Phineas Kimathi said there was no reason to be concerned by the locusts, despite UN predictions of further infestations following a second storm.

“These locusts are very much closer to the border with Somalia, that’s more than 400 kilometres [250 miles] away,” he countered.

“We are seeing very few locusts. I don’t know where you are getting your information from, but we have no such problem locally. And anyway, they [the locusts] are expected to disappear when the rain sets in, which is going to be any day now as we are coming to the rainy season.”

International news outlets have reported significant locust swarms closer to the Kenyan capital Nairobi in Kitui County.

What’s reported to be making the task of getting rid of the locusts more complicated is the need to import pesticides. The coronavirus has grounded all international flights into Kenya.

The UN’s East African Resilience Team leader Cyril Ferrand said: “The fight against an already critical desert locust outbreak is getting harder.”

He added the locust swarms presented “An unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods”.

The next two European WRC rounds in Portugal and Sardinia are widely expected to be postponed early next month, which would make the Safari Rally (July 16-19) the next scheduled WRC counter.

With coronavirus confirmed in Kenya, Kimathi said he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with WRC stakeholders when asked if he expected his date to be moved.

“The Safari Rally is part of the WRC and FIA family,” he added. “I like the way the FIA and WRC is working together and whatever information we have, we will share it with them and make a collective decision.

“We remain optimistic this [coronavirus] will come under control.”

The route for the first WRC-qualifying Safari Rally since 2002 was revealed earlier this month, with Kimathi promising a “world-class event”.

“The Safari, though shortened from a five-day event covering 4500km (2796 miles) to a sprint-like event just over 1000km (624 miles) long will live to its time-honoured mantra of “The toughest rally in the world,” now “The great Kenyan experience in Africa,” he said.

“Certainly, we would not have made it this far in the three short years we were under observation without the support of FIA president Jean Todt and the WRC Promoter led by Oliver Ciesla as well as the president of the Republic of Kenya, his excellency Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta. I equally thank all the great men and women who supported and encouraged my team through the journey.”

The itinerary, centred around Lake Naivasha and Elmenteita, includes 18 stages and a 639-mile route, of which 195 miles are competitive.

The 2020 Safari Rally

Wednesday July 15

Shakedown (3.29 miles) 1301

Thursday July 16

SS1 Super Special Kasarani (2.98 miles) 1408

Friday July 17

SS2 Chui Lodge 1 (8.28 miles) 0820
SS3 Kedong 1 (20.77 miles) 0916
SS4 Oserian 1 (11.72 miles) 1029

Service Naivasha 1149

SS5 Chui Lodge 2 (8.28 miles) 1334
SS6 Kedong 2 (20.77 miles) 1430
SS7 Oserian 2 (11.72 miles) 1543

Service Naivasha 1703

Saturday July 18

SS8 Elementaita 1 (9.09 miles) 0808
SS9 Soysambu 1 (12.63 miles) 0908
SS10 Sleeping Warrior 1 (19.26 miles) 1022

Service Naivasha 1157

SS11 Elementaita 2 (9.09 miles) 1408
SS12 Soysambu 2 (12.63 miles) 1508
SS13 Sleeping Warrior 2 (19.26 miles) 1622

Service Naivasha 1757

Sunday July 19

SS14 Loldia 1 (7.00 miles) 0755
SS15 Hell’s Gate 1 (6.45 miles) 0908

Service Naivasha 0950

SS16 Malewa (5.37 miles) 1044
SS17 Loldia 2 (7.00 miles) 1127
SS18 Hell’s Gate 2 (6.45 miles) 1318

Finish Naivasha 1413

Check back later this week for a special analysis of the 2020 Safari Rally route, including how it compares to some of the event’s classic itineraries