The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and partners appealed for urgent scaling up of response actions by all actors to mitigate the devastating impact of the Desert Locust on food security and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa.
In a joint briefing, the Government of Ethiopia, FAO, and the African Union Commission (AUC) warned that if not controlled, the current situation would be seriously amplified by new locust infestations, with a great possibility of spreading further to Eritrea, South Sudan, and Uganda.
The joint meeting held in Addis Abeba on February 07 briefed ministers and officials from eight Eastern African countries, key partners, and the media, on the dire situation of the desert locust in the region. The locust represents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in Africa and has the potential to become a regional plague that could further lead to suffering, displacement, and potential conflict. The meeting presented ongoing operations and recommended the way forward to scale up control interventions.
In her remarks, Maria Helena Semedo, Deputy Director-General for FAO, appealed to resource partners to support scaling up of control actions by FAO and partners. "I urge you to consider the resources available and how your Representation or Organization can contribute to the growing list of donors to FAO's response plan for effective Desert Locust Control in the Horn of Africa. Locusts do not wait, they will go wherever they want and they will destroy anything they want. Please do not wait to act, let us work together to upscale operations and recovery efforts to safeguard livelihoods and food security in the Greater Horn of Africa," Semedo stressed.
Scourge in the Horn of Africa
The Desert Locust is one of the most devastating migratory pests in the world and it is highly mobile and feeds on large quantities of any kind of green vegetation, including crops, pasture, and fodder. A typical swarm can be made up of 150 million locusts per square kilometer and is carried on the wind, up to 150 km in one day. Even a very small, one square kilometer locust swarm can eat the same amount of food in one day as about 35 000 people.
The current outbreak is ravaging the crop and pasture in the Greater Horn of Africa; damaging tens of thousands of hectares of cropland and pasture in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. This is the worst outbreak in over 25 years in Ethiopia and Somalia and the worst observed in over 70 years in Kenya.
The Locust presents an extremely alarming and unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the region. If not controlled, the current situation will be further exacerbated by new locust infestations in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia; and with a great possibility of spreading further to Eritrea, South Sudan, and Uganda. If locust swarms continue unhindered, this will have serious implications on crop production in the upcoming main season across the entire region.
Even though governments are conducting aerial/ground control operations, spraying pesticides to kill the large swarms, capacities are stretched to the limit by the speed of the pests and the scale of infestation. Working with governments and partners, FAO is rapidly raising funds and surging experts and supplies to the affected countries to scale up anti-locust activities.
Semedo highlighted the need to respond urgently in order to reduce the impact on food security. "We are facing an unprecedented upsurge of Desert Locusts in the Greater Horn of Africa. Without proper containment, this upsurge threatens to provoke a humanitarian crisis," she further noted.
The situation has rapidly deteriorated in January as weather conditions have been unusually conducive to the spread of the pest. These conditions will allow breeding until June 2020 and could lead to 500 times more locusts, with the formation of large numbers of swarms. The current situation is not at a plague level, but this upsurge could become a plague - hence the focus on swift action to reduce another round of reproduction.
Going forward on robust response
Outlining ongoing operations on the ground, Bukar Tijani, FAO Assistant Director-General, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department stated that as the outbreak has worsened; FAO has mobilized staff and resources and is working closely with governments and partners in a food security-fragile region.
In his statement, Ethiopian State Minister for Agriculture, Gebre-Egziabher Gebre-Yohannes, noted that the Desert Locust is ravaging Ethiopia and the neighboring countries with unprecedented scale. "The infestation happened this time when Ethiopia is dealing with the impacts of previous and ongoing droughts. If not well controlled, the locust will aggravate the situation."
The meeting agreed that increased financial commitments and innovation are needed to support the response plan. There is a need to reinforce national commitment to contain the Desert Locust invasion at the country and regional level and increase capacity in establishing sustainable management of plant pest control. Intensive ground and aerial control operations are urgently needed in order to detect and reduce locust populations, prevent more swarms from forming and avoid the spread to even more vulnerable areas.