The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, said today that significant gains had been made in the fight against the desert locust upsurge in East Africa and Yemen. He stressed, however, that more needs to be done to prevent a food security crisis, as the ongoing rainy season not only provides livelihoods for farmers and pastoralists but also favourable conditions for locusts to breed.
Releasing FAO’s progress report on the locust control campaign in East Africa and Yemen, the Director-General noted that the UN agency had continued its surveillance and control operations despite constraints resulting from COVID-19 and other challenges.
Preliminary estimates from the UN agency indicate that 720, 000 tonnes of cereal, enough to feed five million people a year, have been saved in ten countries by preventing the spread of Desert Locusts and damage to many more hectares. An additional 350 000 pastoral households have been spared from distress.
“Our gains have been significant; but the battle is long and is not yet over,” Qu said. “More people are at risk of losing their livelihoods and worsening food security in the coming months.”
While swathes of treated land are now relatively free from the voracious pest, the first wave of swarms has reproduced and a second wave of locusts will transition from juveniles to the young adult stage in June, taking flight at a critical time when many farmers in East Africa prepare to harvest their crops.
The Desert Locust is considered the most destructive migratory pest in the world and a single swarm covering one square kilometre can contain up to 80 million locusts. FAO’s Desert Locust appeal, launched in January, now covers ten countries – Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and Yemen.
The current upsurge is particularly alarming in the broader Eastern Africa region, with recently released forecasts from the Global Report on Food Crises indicating that over 25 million people will face acute food insecurity in the region in the second half of 2020. In Yemen, where locusts have been reproducing in hard-to-access inland areas, an additional 17 million people are acutely food insecure. But those estimates were made before the impact of COVID-19 in a region of acute food insecurity.
“We can and must protect vulnerable people from the impact of multiple crises: conflicts, climate extremes, desert locusts and COVID-19, which threaten to cause a further dramatic deterioration in their food security,” Qu said. “To do this, we need to intensify our efforts further and focus not just on controls but on supporting the livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists so they can get through this.”
Since FAO launched its desert locust response in January, its appeal has been $130 million funded, the report said. However, funding has concentrated on locust control activities and much more backing for livelihoods support activities is needed.
Qu thanked political leaders in the affected countries for their efforts in mobilizing staff and resources and working closely with FAO to design, monitor and implement control operations.
While locust control and surveillance operations are led by national governments, FAO is providing critical support in the form of pesticides, bio-pesticides, equipment, aircraft and training.
So far this year, more 365,000 hectares have been controlled in the ten countries covered by the FAO appeal.
While governments keep expanding their efforts to control the current upsurge with FAO’s support, conditions remain very favourable for locust reproduction and will require sustained and geographically expanded efforts. The revised version of the appeal to be launched in the coming weeks is expected to also seek resources for the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan, which are also dealing with locust infestations and for scaling up preparedness efforts in the Sahel region which might also be affected.
Desert locust monitoring, forecasting and control are at the heart of FAO’s mandate. Its Desert Locust Information Service has been in operation for nearly 50 years. FAO’s well-established field presence, ability to link up authorities from different countries, and expertise in desert locust management and forecasting, make it a key player in responding to upsurges like that currently affecting East Africa and the Red Sea area.