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Fight against desert locust swarms continues in East Africa despite coronavirus crisis measures

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), says the infestation of locusts remains alarming, particularly in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia where it poses an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods for millions.

In its latest report, the FAO said the fight to rid these countries of the infestation, is a difficult one due to restrictions imposed by many countries to contain the coronavirus outbreak are creating challenges, however, the FAO is working with Governments, farmers and agricultural producers to overcome hurdles.

“There is no significant slowdown because all the affected countries working with FAO consider desert locusts a national priority”, said Cyril Ferrand, FAO’s Resilience Team Leader for East Africa.

“While lockdowns are becoming reality, people engaged in the fight against the (locust) upsurge are still allowed to conduct surveillance and air and ground control operations,” he said.

Widespread rainfall in March is expected to generate a dramatic increase in locust numbers in the coming months, with new swarms due to move from Kenya into South Sudan and Uganda.

The situation is also worrying in Iran and Yemen where a new generation of locusts is emerging, the Rome-based agency said.

So far, more than 240,000 hectares across 10 countries have been treated with chemical pesticides or biopesticides, and 750 people have been trained to carry out ground locust control operations.

But COVID-19 is having an impact on the supply of pesticides as well as motorized sprayers. According to Ferrand the biggest challenge is delays in pesticide deliveries due to a significant reduction in global air freight operations.

“Our absolute priority is to prevent a breakdown in pesticide stocks in each country”, he said.

“That would be dramatic for rural populations whose livelihoods and food security depend on the success of our control campaign.”

To respond to restrictions on the movement of personnel, FAO is making greater use of remote data collection through a critical network of partners, civil society, extension workers and grassroots organizations.

The FAO, is encouraging all countries to use a rugged handheld device - called eLocust3 - that can record and transmit real-time data via satellite to national locust centres and the Desert Locust Information Service at FAO headquarters.

More than 450 of the devices have gone out to teams in northern Africa, the Near East and southwest Asia.

“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,” Mr. Ferrand said.

Desert locusts are regarded as the world’s most destructive migratory pest, with a single swarm of up to 80 million capable of covering just one square kilometer.

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