Fight against desert locusts will take long – FAO Director General

Efforts to control Desert Locusts will take time as increased concern for the Sahel and Southwest Asia is adding to the burden of efforts ongoing in the Horn of Africa and Yemen. This is according to the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu.

Qu was joined by the UN Under-Secretary General and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, Mark Lowcock, at a virtual briefing for FAO Members, regional organizations, partners, and other stakeholders as FAO raised its locust appeal to $311.6 million.

The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu. (FAO)

“Our gains have been significant, but the battle is long and is spreading to new areas,” Qu said.  “It is clear that we cannot declare victory yet.  Upsurges of this magnitude are rarely defeated in a few months.”

Qu welcomed the World Bank Group’s establishment of a $500 million programme to help countries in Africa and the Middle East combat the impact of locusts and appealed for additional support from other donors and partners.

Despite control operations, recent heavy rains have created ideal conditions for the pest’s reproduction in several countries. Young juveniles will become voracious adults in June just as farmers begin to harvest, compounding an already bleak food security situation.

“The locusts, combined with the impacts of COVID-19, could have catastrophic consequences on livelihoods and food security,” Qu emphasized.

Forecasts from the recently-released Global Report on Food Crises indicated that more than 25 million people will experience acute hunger in Eastern Africa in 2020, and an additional 17 million in Yemen. The COVID-19 pandemic will likely further undermine food security.

FAO rapidly supported governments in scaling up control activities in January and is launching an urgent appeal to support ten countries to contain the upsurge and anticipate devastating impacts on livelihoods and food security.

According to FAO estimates, some 720, 000 tonnes of cereal have been saved so far — by preventing the locusts’ spread and damage to many more hectares – enough to feed five million people for a year.  The livelihoods of an additional 350 000 pastoral households were also spared.

Qu stressed it was not only the short-term that mattered, but medium and long-term action to support governments and regional authorities to build capacity to anticipate, prepare and prevent future outbreaks.

FAO says in the coming months, Desert Locusts will continue breeding in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. New swarms will form in June and migrate to the Sudan through South Sudan and pose a risk to the Sahel in West Africa.

There is also an increased risk along both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border, where outbreaks in the Islamic Republic of Iran, and Pakistan are still ongoing.

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