Both FAO and Red Cross warn of lack of action in the face of the locust scourge


(Posted 14th April 2020)

As the world battles #COVID19, farmers in East Africa are facing another devastating outbreak: swarms of desert locusts. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) fears that the new swarms could spark widespread crop loss and deepen already serious levels of food insecurity, especially in places reeling from conflict or violence.

The outbreak of desert locusts cannot be forgotten in the race against COVID-19,” said John Karongo, the regional agronomist for the ICRC, based in Nairobi. “Farmers in East Africa are entering their most important planting season as new swarms are beginning to hatch. We have to act now to avert the worst.”

The March rains create a troubling domino effect: the new swarms emerging in Kenya, Somalia, and southern Ethiopia have the right conditions to remain, mature, and lay eggs, with the possibility of moving to Uganda and South Sudan. These swarms could then lay eggs in May, which would hatch in late June and July, when farmers are just starting to harvest.

Farmers in Somalia like Halima Abdikadir, who lives in Garowe town, already saw vegetation be decimated by locusts earlier this year and fears the worst is ahead if more eggs hatch. “Once swarms of locusts arrive on a farm, they don’t leave anything behind—they eat everything,” said Halima. “It damaged the guava in my farm…No one will buy damaged fruits and vegetables in the market.

Fueled by warmer and wetter weather patterns late last year, the locust outbreak is the worst East Africa has seen in decades and came on the heels of a year marked by extreme droughts and floods.

We have already seen a decline in food security in many areas because locusts wiped out pastureland and crops,” said Karongo. “If the locust outbreak is not stopped, we could see the biggest swarms at their hungriest time right when crops are starting to mature, all while the COVID-19 pandemic is creating economic turmoil that will undoubtedly hit poor families the hardest.”

The ICRC, together with national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, is getting information out to communities about locusts so that swarms can be reported early and what measures should be taken when there is chemical spraying. In Somalia, the ICRC is helping farmers who received seeds last year with equipment like bio-pesticides and training to help prevent further crop loss.

There’s a Somali proverb that says when the locust leaves an area, it leaves its eggs behind,” said Halima. “New swarms are born once the rain comes. It is good that the locusts left, but my worry right now is the eggs and the damage they will cause."

The ICRC will continue its food, livelihoods and agriculture programs in Somalia, South Sudan, and Ethiopia, while the Kenya Red Cross stands ready to help people recover with cash grants, feed for livestock, and seeds and farming tools.

Meanwhile, about one million individuals in Ethiopia and Somalia have been affected by the Desert Locust invasion and require emergency food assistance. Of these, about 390 000 are in Somali, 360 000 in Oromia and Dire Dawa city (combined), 100 000 in Afar, 72 000 in Amhara, 43 000 in Tigray and 13 000 in Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples (SNNP) regions. The recommendation was made by the April 2020 Report of the Impact of Desert Locusts on Food Security and Livelihoods in Ethiopia –Joint Assessment Findings.

The Assessment was conducted by the Government of Ethiopia, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), other United Nations agencies and Non-Governmental Organizations that are part of the Agriculture Taskforce, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) Technical Working Group and the Food Cluster.

The objective of the Assessment was to establish the impacts of the Desert locusts on livelihoods and food security of the population in the most-affected zones and Woredas (districts).

Ms. Fatouma Seid, the FAO Representative in Ethiopia said “as we strive to control the Desert Locusts, it is critical to protect the livelihoods of the affected population especially now that the situation is compounded by the COVID-19 crisis”. She added that as soon as conditions permit, FAO will continue to assist farmers and pastoralists with agricultural inputs and cash transfers.

Crop and pasture damage, limited cereal stock

According to the Assessment findings, Desert Locusts damaged about 200 000 hectares of cropland and caused a cereal loss of over 356 000 MT. Sorghum was the most affected cereal with 114 000 hectares damaged, followed by maize at 41 000 hectares and wheat at 36 000 hectares. Oromia region was worst affected with total cereal loss of 123 000 MT, followed by the Somali region at 100 000 MT while the Tigray region recorded 84 000 MT cereal loss. The majority of the assessed households either had no or very limited cereal food stock barely a month after completing *Meher *(September – February) crop harvest.

Up to 1.3 million hectares of pasture and browse were affected. Communities estimated 61 percent reduction in the pasture in the Somali region, 59 percent in Afar, 35 percent in Dire Dawa and SNNPR, 31 percent in Oromia.

Increased cereal prices against stagnant and falling livestock prices

The Assessment found that cereal prices had increased soon after harvest (in February 2020) by about 50 percent from 2019 yet about 25 percent of households were relying on markets for food. Livestock prices were stagnant. The sale of livestock was likely eroding the resilience of livestock keepers particularly in Afar, Somali and Oromia regions where the trend was observed.

Food consumption and dietary diversity deteriorates

The proportion of households reporting poor food consumption deteriorated from 37 percent in August 2019 to 41 percent in February 2020. Afar region recorded the highest proportion of households with poor consumption, at 91 percent in February 2020 compared to 58 percent in August 2019. In the Oromia region, the proportion of households reporting poor food consumption increased from 38 percent in August 2019 to 50 percent in February 2020.

In the seven days prior to the assessment, about two thirds of the households reported consuming less than three food groups compared to seven as recommended by nutrition experts. This means the nutrition for the household members is compromised. Up to 97 percent of households in the Afar and 74 percent in both Somali and Oromia consumed three or fewer food groups.


In addition to responding to the immediate food needs of the affected population, the Report recommends strengthening national Desert Locust Early Warning, information sharing mechanisms, and control capacities. It calls for sustainable humanitarian assistance to the existing caseload in the context of the prevailing COVID-19 crisis. Furthermore, it calls for conducting a comprehensive food security and Nutrition Survey in June 2020, to produce IPC analysis on the impact of Desert Locusts, seasonal food insecurity and impact of COVID-19.
Heavy rainfall as presently witnessed creates favourable breeding conditions in the Somali region and other parts of Eastern Africa.

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