Desert Locust: another fight of East Africa

East Africa suffers from the Desert Locust upsurge, an alarming problem that poses an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the region.

Six countries are the worst affected – 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, is also being affected by the pest.

Besides that, widespread rainfall in March can produce a dramatic increase in locust numbers over the coming months. The situation is also worrying in the Islamic Republic of Iran and Yemen where a new generation of locusts is emerging.

Swarm of Desert Locusts in Isiolo County in Kenya
Swarm of Desert Locusts in Isiolo County in Kenya

From Rome, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) declared this Thursday that will be continuing its efforts to contain this outbreak with national governments, farmers and agricultural producers to contain. However, the East African countries have some restrictions on the movement of personnel and equipment because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This directly impacts on the supply of motorized 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,” said Cyril Ferrand, FAO’s Resilience Team Leader for East Africa. “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.”

FAO is ensuring the support for surveillance as well as aerial and ground spraying being conducted in 10 affected countries. So far more than 240,000 hectares have been treated with chemical pesticides or biopesticides across the region and 740 people have been trained up to conduct ground locust control operations.

The technology also is being used to solve the question. The eLocust3, a kind of rugged handheld tablet with a specific built-in-app, allows record and transmit data in real-time via satellite to national locust centers 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. FAO also developed an updated version of eLocust3 that can be used on mobile phones.

The Desert Locust is considered the most destructive migratory pest in the world. A single swarm covering one square kilometer contains up to 80 million locusts, according to FAO. The number of locusts could increase another 20 times during the upcoming rainy season unless control activities are stepped up.

International Help

This situation, which represents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods, has mobilized countless countries and international institutions and a high volume of financial resources. So far, $ 111.1 million has been promised or received. For FAO, an estimated US $ 153.2 million is needed to effectively combat the problem.