Rwanda on Alert as Locusts Invade Regional Countries

Locusts can devastate crops and pastures.
16 January 2020

Locusts have invaded several countries in the Eastern African region, including Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia with the possibility of spreading further.

Though they have not yet crossed into Rwanda, the Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Geraldine Mukeshimana, has said that the country was in a position to tackle the threat.

"If they do not spread to Rwanda, well and good. But, in case they cross the border, people should get ready to fight them as they did the fall armyworm," she observed.

"Farmers should be prepared, visit their farms so that we can partner to combat the pest in case its strikes," the minister said.

Locusts began crossing into Kenya around December 28, 2019, initially destroying pastures in semi-arid counties mainly occupied by pastoralist communities.

Early December 2019, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned that desert locusts, which had hit first Ethiopia and Somalia, would spread to other Eastern Africa countries including Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya and South Sudan if early and sustained measures were not taken.

The UK news agency, Reuters, reported that they had already destroyed over 70,000 hectares (175,000 acres) of farmland in Somalia and Ethiopia, threatening food supplies and livelihoods of farming communities in both countries in the worst locust invasion in 70 years.

An average swarm will destroy crops that could feed 2,500 people for a year, FAO said. A desert locust swarm can be 460 square miles in size and pack between 40 and 80 million insects into less than half a square mile.

Each locust can eat its weight in plants each day, so a swarm of such size would eat 423 million pounds of plants every day.

Impact on agriculture

According to the National Geographic Society (NGS), a scientific and educational organisation headquartered in the US, locust swarms devastate crops and cause major agricultural damage and attendant human misery-famine and starvation.

They occur in many parts of the world, but today locusts are most destructive in sustenance farming regions of Africa.

The desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is notorious, it said. Found in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, they inhabit some 60 countries and can cover one-fifth of Earth's land surface.

Desert locust plagues may threaten the economic livelihood of one-tenth of the world's humans.

Fighting the locusts

Because these pests normally fly in swarms, breaking them apart can be achieved through making noise, such as by using low flying planes to create atmospheric disturbance to disrupt the locust, according to World Economic Forum. Also, the use of the right pesticides is a solution to controlling the locusts.

However, the World Economic Forum says that one of the most effective ways to avoid the devastating effects of locust plagues is to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

Under this method, it said, considerable resources are allocated to early warning and preventive control strategies whereby locust monitoring stations collect data on weather, ecological conditions and locust numbers, making forecasts of the timing and location of breeding.

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