Dar es Salaam — The government said it has hired three spray planes in preparation to possible invasion of desert locusts which have plagued Eastern Africa in recent weeks.
Agriculture minister Japhet Hasunga said two planes will come from Addis Ababa- based Desert Locust Control Organisation for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA) and one from Zambia-based International Red Locust Control Organization for Central and Southern Africa (IRLCO-CSA).
He said the ministry has already applied for a license from the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) to deliver the planes to Tanzania.
According to the minister, the government will not incur the cost of hiring the planes from the regional organizations because Tanzania was a member of the two organizations which comprises Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia, to mention but a few.
"Since we are members, they will not charge us the hiring cost. But some money will be required to pay pilots, buy fuel and other expenses during the exercise," said the minister.
"The government has taken all precautionary measures to fight off the desert locusts which have so far not invaded Tanzania," said the minister.
Record desert locusts have hit parts of neighbouring Kenya, destroying tens of hundreds of farm crops. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says it is Kenya's worst desert locust invasion in 70 years. However, Kenyan authorities have deployed aircraft to spray and kill the locusts before they spread to neighbouring countries
The desert locust is potentially the most dangerous of the locust pests because of the ability of swarms to fly rapidly across great distances. It has two to five generations per year. The last major desert locust upsurge in 2004-05 caused significant crop losses in West Africa and had a negative impact on food security in the region. The livelihood of at least one-tenth of the world's human population can be affected by this voracious insect, available reports indicate.
Mr Hasunga further told The Citizen that bout 7000 litres of pesticides have been already purchased for use during the spraying exercise. There are plans to purchase another 3000 litres of the pesticides in the near future for the purpose," he said.
On January 30, this year, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa told the Parliament in Dodoma that the government had taken several measures to fight off the possible invasion of desert locusts.
"Authorities have already contacted their counterparts in Kenya to see how the country can fight off the invasion of the locusts that feed on food crops and vegetation," the Premier was quoted.
Somalia has become the first country in the Horn of Africa to declare a locust infestation sweeping the region as a national emergency. The country's Ministry of Agriculture said in a statement recently the desert locust surge "poses a major threat to Somalia's fragile food security situation".
Mr Hasunga is on record as saying in November last year that a research in Katavi, Singida and Kigoma regions found there were signs of breeding grounds for red locusts--large grasshopper species found in Sub-Saharan Africa, who differ from the desert locusts.
"There are two types of locusts namely; desert locusts and red locusts. The desert locusts are the ones reportedly to have caused total destruction of crops in Kenya and other countries, while the red locusts have been existing in Tanzania for many years," elaborated the Minister. He added: "According to the research findings, the red locusts will cause massive destruction of crops in somewhere around 35, 000 hectors of land in those regions around March and April this year."
Highlighting the government's plans to fight off red locusts in the aforementioned regions, the Minister asserted that some 53 agricultural officials have been trained on ways to fight off the pests.