Even as governments in the region scramble resources to minimise the damage expected from a new wave of desert locust invasion, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) warns the surge may not be controlled by June.
And that is worrying seeing as the main cropping season is around the corner.
While Uganda and the Desert Locust Control Organisation are reported to be working with Kenya on eliminating new swarms.
According to Evarist Magara, the representative of the organisation, the air craft that was being used to spray the locusts has been moved to a base at Lodwar in an effort to contain the insects from there rather than wait for them after maturity on the Ugandan side.
Unlike previous swarms of mature insects that crossed into the country in February, the new arrivals comprise insects at growth stage that can destroy vegetation where they go, according to Agriculture Minister Vincent Ssempijja.
No less an agency than FAO is worried about this situation.
“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,” said Dominique Burgeon, director, Emergency and Resilience Division Strategic Programme Leader – Resilience at FAO.
More than 20 million people are already facing severe acute food insecurity in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Yemen, South Sudan, Uganda, Sudan, and Tanzania.
In South Sudan, limited breeding is under way in the southeast near Torit where a few hopper bands have formed.
While releasing a report on the locust control campaign in East Africa and Yemen, FAO’s Director-General Qu Dongyu, noted that the UN agency had continued its surveillance and control operations despite constraints such as the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our gains have been significant; but the battle is long and is not yet over,” said Qu Dongyu, “More people are at risk of losing their livelihoods and worsening food security in the coming months.”
Since the start of the desert locust surge over four months ago and the subsequent launch of FAO’s crisis appeal in January, FAO has mobilised a total of $130 million. Through this support, over 365,000 hectares have been controlled.
From the control efforts, 720,000 tonnes of cereal have already been saved – worth around $220 million and representing enough to feed almost five million people for one year.
My Qu said more needs to be done to prevent a food crisis, as the rainy season not only provides livelihoods for farmers and pastoralists but also favourable conditions for locusts to breed.
“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.”
In the past week, mature swarms in Kenya moved further north into Marsabit and Turkana to lay eggs.
“We will in July use drones and mobile applications to help assess the impact caused by desert locusts,” said Kenya’s Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya in Nairobi.
Tanzania’s Minister for Agriculture Japhet Hasunga told The EastAfrican his ministry was carrying out awareness campaigns among people in areas prone to locust invasion.
Areas for possible invasion of locusts are Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Mara and Tanga regions all located on the natural, desert locusts routes.
- Additional reporting by Raymond Tamale and Apolinari Tairo