THREAT TO FOOD SECURITY

Desert locust war still on despite coronavirus

Widespread rainfall expected to produce a dramatic increase in their numbers.

In Summary
  • The insects have destroyed thousands of acres of crops, threatening food security.
  • FAO estimates the number of locusts could increase 20 times during the rainy season unless control activities are stepped up.
Desert locusts.
Desert locusts.
Image: FILE

The fight against desert locusts is still on despite restrictions on the movement of personnel and equipment, FAO has said.

FAO resilient team leader for East Africa Cyril Ferrand said widespread rainfall is expected to produce a dramatic increase in locust numbers in East Africa over the coming months.

"The desert locust upsurge continues to remain alarming, particularly in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, where it poses an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods," he said.

 

"In the six East African countries worst affected or at risk of locusts - Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania - around 20 million people are already experiencing acute food insecurity, and a further 15 million in Yemen, which is also being affected by the pest." 

Ferrand said new swarms are expected to move from Kenya into South Sudan and Uganda. 

 

The desert locust is considered the most destructive migratory pest in the world. A single swarm covers one square kilometre and contains up to 80 million locusts.   

FAO estimates the number of locusts could increase 20 times during the rainy season unless control activities are stepped up.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran and Yemen, a new generation of locusts is emerging.

According to FAO, young locusts, called nymphs, have been sighted in 134 sites in Samburu, Isiolo (28 sites), Tharaka Nithi (16), Kitui (14), Turkana (four), Marsabit (three), Garissa (two) and Embu (one).   

FAO said restrictions on the movement of personnel and equipment as a result of coronavirus have created challenges.

 

The organisation said it continues to work with national governments, farmers and agricultural producers to contain the outbreak.

"There is no significant slowdown because all the affected countries working with FAO consider desert locusts a national priority," Ferrand said.

The biggest challenge we are facing at the moment is the supply of pesticides and we have delays because global air freight has been reduced significantly
FAO resilient team leader for East Africa Cyril Ferrand

"While lockdown is becoming a reality, people engaged in the fight against the upsurge are still allowed to conduct surveillance, and air and ground control operations," he said.

FAO is augmenting national efforts by providing support for surveillance as well as aerial and ground spraying in 10 affected countries.

So far more than 240,000 hectares have been treated with chemical pesticides or biopesticides and 740 people have been trained to conduct ground locust control operations. 

But Covid-19 has had an impact on the supply of motorised sprayers and pesticides.

"The biggest challenge we are facing at the moment is the supply of pesticides and we have delays because global air freight has been reduced significantly," Ferrand said.   

"Our absolute priority is to prevent a breakdown in pesticide stocks in each country. That would be dramatic for rural populations whose livelihoods and food security depend on the success of our control campaign."

He said FAO is intensifying remote data collection the network of partners, civil society, extension workers and grassroots organisations.

This, he said, is critical for providing information from remote locations especially in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan.

FAO is encouraging all countries to use eLocust3, a rugged handheld tablet and app, which records and transmits data in real-time via satellite to national locust centres and to the Desert Locust Information Service (DLIS) based at FAO headquarters in Rome.

Since 2015, more than 450 of these handheld devices have been distributed to teams in northern Africa, the Near East and southwest Asia, allowing the transfer of real-time data from the middle of the desert directly to the national locust office and to FAO's headquarters.

More recently, FAO has developed a version of eLocust3 that can be used on mobile phones and a GPS device in order to broaden usage and coverage.

"We need to rely on a network of partners in the field in order to collect vital information because we cannot go everywhere due to Covid-19," Ferrand said.

FAO recently scaled up its desert locust appeal to $153.2 million and so far $111.1 million has been pledged or received.

Edited by Josephine M. Mayuya