Locusts to pose extreme threat to the whole of East Africa

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
Massive, border-spanning campaign needed to combat locust upsurge in East Africa
Ravenous swarms threaten entire East Africa subregion – Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) scales up its emergency response
Desert Locust swarms in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – already unprecedented in their size and destructive potential – could swell exponentially and spill over into more countries in East Africa if efforts to deal with the voracious pest are not massively scaled up across the region, the FAO warned today.

This has become a situation of international dimensions that threatens the food security of the entire subregion. FAO is activating fast-track mechanisms that will allow us to move swiftly to support governments in mounting a collective campaign to deal with this crisis,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu.

Authorities in the region have already jump-started control activities, but in view of the scale and urgency of the threat, additional financial backing from the international donor community is needed so they can access the tools and resources required to get the job done,” Qu said. “FAO stands ready to leverage our expertise and facilitate a coordinated regional response,” he then added.

Potential for exponential expansion

Recent weather in East Africa has created conditions that favour rapid locust reproduction. Left unchecked, the numbers of crop-devouring insects there could grow 500 times by June.

Such swarms – potentially containing hundreds of millions of individual Desert Locusts — can move 150 kilometres a day, devastating rural livelihoods in their relentless drive to eat and reproduce. A Desert Locust devours its own weight in food per day – about two grams.

Swarms continue to pour into Kenya from Ethiopia and Somalia and are rapidly spreading to the centre of the country.

In Ethiopia, the insects are moving steadily south towards the Rift Valley, the country’s breadbasket.

Ethiopia and Somalia have not seen Desert Locust swarms of this scale in 25 years, while Kenya has not faced a locust threat of this magnitude in 70 years.

South Sudan and Uganda are not currently affected, but are at risk.

Facing an unprecedented threat

FAO is providing forecasts, early warning and alerts on the timing, scale and location of invasions and breeding.

The speed of the pest’s spread and the size of the infestations are so far beyond the norm that they have stretched the capacities of local and national authorities to the limit.

Given the scale of the current swarms, aerial control is the only effective means to reduce the locust numbers.

Aerial operations need to be upscaled substantially and very quickly in Ethiopia and Kenya. In addition, “Alongside pest control activities our response must include efforts to restore people’s livelihoods,” said FAO’s Director-General. “Communities in Eastern Africa have already been impacted by extended droughts, which have eroded their capacities to grow food and make a living. We need to help them get back on their feet, once the locusts are gone,” Qu said.

At this stage and on the basis of conservative estimates, FAO seeks $70 million to urgently support both pest control and livelihood protection operations in the three most affected countries.

Southwest Asia and Red Sea area also affected

In India, Iran and Pakistan numerous Desert Locust swarms have been present since June 2019 and have been breeding. Some of these swarms have migrated to southern Iran where recent heavy rains allowed them to lay eggs that could turn into swarms in spring 2020.

Egypt, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen are also seeing substantial breeding activity that could see locust bands expand into swarms in the coming months.

FAO is monitoring all situations closely, and is actively engaging with all countries facing Desert Locust threats to support their response activities.

Despite control efforts, Desert Locusts are spreading to new areas of Ethiopia in vast numbers. According to Government data provided on 07th of January 2020, Desert Locusts has have infested more than 2 350 km2 of land across the Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Somali, Tigray, and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ (SNNP) regional states, as well as in Dire Dawa city. The insects have spread to around 125 Woredas (districts) – up from 56 in October 2019.

The invasion could lead to a considerable drop in agricultural production, livestock feed and forest cover, compromising livelihoods and food security in Ethiopia and neighbouring countries,” warned Fatouma Seid, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Representative in Ethiopia.

Heavy rainfall creates favourable breeding conditions in the Somali region

Over 1 800 km2 of crop, pasture and forest cover has already been invaded by Desert Locust, an area that continues to grow as fast-moving swarms keep arriving from undetected areas in Ethiopia as well as adjacent areas of Somalia. FAO is currently planning a rapid assessment mission to assemble additional and more granular data on the extent of the swarms and the amount of land potentially affected.

Although aerial and ground control operations have been ongoing since July 2019, a large area of Desert Locust breeding ground in the Somali region remained uncontrolled resulting in cyclic multiplication and formation of new swarms. This situation is exacerbated by heavy rainfall and green vegetation that will allow breeding conditions to remain favourable and may last until June 2020.

Concerted efforts and more resources required to scale up response until June 2020

Ms. Seid called for concerted national efforts as well as from neighboring and affected countries to fight the Desert Locust threat. “We need an immediate scaling up of surveillance, monitoring, and ground and aerial spraying’. Community mobilization and awareness raising possibly until the end of June 2020 will be important,” she said.

The priority for prevention and control is the Somali Region, where 94 km2 was affected between November and December 2019, as well as the new invasion areas in Oromia and SNNP regions. FAO is working with the Government of Ethiopia, the Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa and other partners to raise awareness, mobilize resources, and monitor and respond to the Desert Locust invasion.

There is growing concern among the nature and wildlife based tourism sectors in the affected countries that an uncontrolled locust invasion could have a severe impact on tourism as it could impact on food sources for wildlife and birdlife just as much as on humankind.