Locusts to come back 20 times strong, FAO warns
NAIROBI | By Judah Ben-Hur | April 17th 2020
A new generation of Locusts is predicted to rise and hit East Africa 20 times harder than the first plague that started late last year.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FOA), the upsurge of desert Locust continues to remain alarming, especially in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, where it poses an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods of more than 11.9 million people who already experience acute food insecurity.
A swarm bigger than that witnessed last year is set to rise from Kenya into southern Sudan and Uganda owing to the widespread rainfall witnessed in March.
“Although ground and aerial control operations are in progress, widespread rains that fell in late March will allow the new swarms to mostly stay in place, mature and lay eggs while a few swarms could move from Kenya to Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia,” read an update in FOA’S Locust watch.
Ugandan authorities have in recent days reported a new invasion from two such swarms coming from Kenya where the pests search for freshly sprouting crops following the rains.
Even though FOA continues with its efforts in controlling the pest through both ground, aerial spraying and training of people on how to conduct ground locus control, the Covid-19 crisis has played a major role in slowing down their efforts. Disruption in the supply chain has stalled the delivery of pesticides in the region and creating shortages and stock-outs.
According to FOA 240,000 hectares have been with chemical pesticides and bio-pesticides while 750 people have received training on how to carry out ground control.
Experts following the locust predict that during May, the eggs will hatch into hopper bands that will form new swarms in late June and July, which coincides with the start of the harvest.
Coupled with the economic and food crisis brought about by covid-19, East Africa will be facing a crushing blow in dealing with a double tragedy that threatens to starve its citizens.
According to FOA the authorities need to continue with the fight relentlessly because “The potential for destruction is enormous. A locust swarm of one square kilometre can eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people,” reads a statement by FOA
How it started
The pest leapfrogged their way from Yemen last year into Somalia and made their way west and south into Kenya and Ethiopia. This unprecedented and unimaginable move of pests moving from one continent to the other was facilitated by favorable climatic conditions both in Yemen and Somalia.
On May 18, 2018 cyclone Sagar sprayed heavy rains on the coast of Yemen and one week later Cyclone Mekunu poured damaging rainfall in Yemeni island; a place rarely hit by cyclones. It is these occurrences that allowed three generations of locust to breed and grow 8,000 times in number in a span of nine months and later spill over to Somalia.
As if nature planned this, Cyclone Pawan hit Somalia causing widespread flooding leading to an explosion of vegetation in its aftermath and perfect conditions for the locust to multiply in numbers. It is these events that led to the deadly invasion that has left East Africa dealing with a threat that had been a ghost since the 1970s.
As East African countries’ eyes and efforts remain focused on preventing the spread of Covid-19, the enemy within continues to grow wings, threatening the food source of an already struggling population
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