East Africa: Spread of Desert Locusts to Tanzania Raises Food Security Concerns - UN

(file photo).
12 February 2020

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has confirmed the spread of desert locusts to Tanzania, making it the third country in the East African Community trading bloc to be infested by the crop consuming insects.

FAO, which leads international efforts to defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security, said there were reports that desert locusts arrived in northeast Uganda while other reports indicated that they had crossed the border into northern Tanzania close to Mt. Kilimanjaro, reaching Arusha and Mushi.

The body's latest desert locust situation update of February 10, shows that there is an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the region.

Tanzania reportedly detected swarms in its northern border areas close to Mount Kilimanjaro and deployed three planes to spray pesticides.

Dr Patrick Karangwa, the Director-General of Rwanda Agriculture Board (RAB), told The New Times that Rwandans should not panic over the desert locusts' threat afflicting the eastern African region.

The likelihood that they will reach Rwanda, he said, is still minimal.

He said: "The locusts' threat last affected Rwanda several decades ago. Right now, they are still far away from us.

"There is a good probability they will not get here but this does not mean that we rest on our laurels. As is always the case, our institutions are ready and are collaborating to do whatever is necessary in case of an attack."

For the past few months, billions of desert locusts swarmed across eastern Africa-mainly affecting Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, with indication they were likely to spread further.

According to the UN, the infestation in Kenya is the worst in 70 years, while Somalia and Ethiopia are experiencing their worst outbreaks in 25 years, putting crop production, food security and millions of lives at risk.

In addition to destroying crops, the locusts also consume the vegetation on cattle grazing land in a matter of hours.

'We're running out of time'

According to the FAO, aerial pesticide spraying is the only effective way to combat desert locust swarms.

Swarms crossed into Uganda overnight, and Tanzania and South Sudan are now "on the watch list", Mark Lowcock, the UN's top humanitarian official, told ambassadors during a briefing at UN Headquarters, on Monday.

"In this region where there is so much suffering and so much vulnerability and fragility, we simply cannot afford another major shock. And that's why we need to act quickly", Mark Lowcock told ambassadors, during a briefing at UN Headquarters.

"We do have a chance to nip this problem in the bud, but that's not what we're doing at the moment. We're running out of time."

It is noted that locusts are the world's oldest and most destructive migratory pest.

An average swarm, which contains up to 40 million insects, can travel up to 150 km in a single day and can devour enough food to feed 34 million people within that time.

The FAO recently launched a $76 million appeal to control the locusts' spread.

So far, it is noted, only around $20 million has been received; roughly half of which came from a UN emergency fund.

"Without rapid action, we will be facing a rapidly expanding humanitarian crisis. The Desert Locust swarms are growing exponentially," FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu warned in a video message.

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