image Photo: Reuters

Locusts continue to plague Africa & Mideast

Aerial and ground control operations by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) remain in effect in many parts of Africa and the Middle East to prevent further migration or hatching of the desert locust.

According to the FAO’s latest  Desert Locust situation update, none of the mobile swarms that crossed last week into northeast Uganda (believed to have spread to the Moroto, Amudati, Napak districts) nor in southeast South Sudan (to the south of Kapoeta in Eastern Equatoria) are expected to mature or possibly breed further.

Efforts to disrupt egg-laying leading to the eventual formation of hopper bands are ongoing in northeastern Ethiopia, where mature swarms have been located over the 400 kilometer cliff-like ridge of land below the eastern edges of the Amhara and Tigray highlands, as well as a band in Tigray south of Mekele. Biopesticides are being used to target prevailing immature swarms in the Harar Highlands and nearby eastern areas; and the plateau in northwest Somalia. It is feared that if allowed to further mature, these swarms could proliferate in rainy areas particularly the northwest coast where adult groups have been detected.

The FAO reports that the risk of swarm migration to the Indo-Pakistan summer breeding area “has nearly subsided,” and that “good progress is being made” to eliminate the first generation of hopper bands predominantly located in Rajasthan, India. Success is also being registered, albeit “to a lesser degree” in the Tharparkar district of southern Sindh, Pakistan, due relentless work by “more than 1,000 teams, 750 vehicles and nearly 6,000 staff involved in the ground control campaign in Pakistan and hundreds of teams in India.”

Meanwhile in the Arabian Peninsula, the formation of hopper bands and swarms is ongoing in the interior, southern coast, and central highlands of Yemen and breeding is believed to be in progress on the coast of the Red Sea. Control operations have been conducted against a mature swarm near Yemen’s border in the Asir Mountains of southwest Saudi Arabia. At least one immature swarm has reportedly formed on the Salalah coast of southern Oman.

The situation is expected to “remain calm” in West Africa, where “normal” small-scale breeding by solitarious adults is underway in the northern Sahel of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad as well as Sudan – despite rainfall further north than usual in August. Close monitoring of the situation in these countries is nevertheless being maintained.

There is greater concern in the Horn of Africa, where steep efforts have been enacted against several immature swarms persisting in northwest Kenya. Some of the adults are already beginning to mature, indicating “the possibility of a generation of breeding once the short rains start in October,” says the FAO.

Even though an estimated half a trillion locusts have been eliminated and over 600,000 hectares of land have so far been covered across East Africa, continued surveillance is mandated to ward off the threat of possible re-infestation toward the end of 2020. In addition to controlling the infestation, the FAO is also responding to the impacts of the locusts on the livelihoods of affected communities to ensure survival and recovery. The UN organization has trained hundreds of National Youth Service (NYS) trainees as part of strategies to increase Kenyan governmental surveillance amid control of the worst desert locust invasion the country has seen in 70 years.

For example, up to 20% of crops were damaged in areas where the pest was present in Kenya’s poorest region of Turkana, which lies in the northwest and borders Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia. The livelihood of farmers and agriculturalists in the vast, dry scrubland of the county has been greatly affected by the ongoing desert locust infestation; with a 15-20% damage or drop in yield to sorghum crops reported in June alone.

Competition for pasture with billions of hungry hoppers has heavily impacted hungry livestock. One of the ramifications has been the subsequent inability of goats to produce enough milk to feed families. Mother of 7 Anna Amurai told Reuters that the amount of milk her goat was able to provide has dropped from 8 to just one jug.

“I know if the desert locusts disappear, and God gives us a little bit of rain, we will have pasture,” said Pastor Moses Areng, who belongs to the Lorgum Livestock Association. “But if it doesn’t rain for more than one month, and the hopper bands have finished all the pasture available – the livestock will suffer and die from hunger and disease,” he said.

Sub-county agriculture officer Silali Turkwell underscored how essential it is to “eradicate this pest,” branding the desert locust as “a threat to humanity.”

— By Erin Viner