Southern Africa: Locusts Pose a Food Security Threat to SADC

Adult locusts can eat three times their own body-weight per day and travel hundreds of kilometres.
8 September 2020

Locusts are threatening to swarm again over Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia and urgent action is needed to prevent a serious outbreak of the African migratory locust, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned.

In a report, the UN agency said locust outbreaks were now threatening the food security and livelihoods of millions of people in the four countries.

"Even with the control measures already taken, the locusts are still a threat. Some of the worst-affected areas are very difficult to reach. We need to support the four governments, SADC and partner organisations like International Red Locust Control Organisation for Central and Southern Africa (IRLCO-CSA) to control this pest and protect people's livelihoods," Patrice Talla, FAO sub-regional co-ordinator for Southern Africa said.

FAO recently launched the Southern Africa emergency locust response and preparedness project which is funded by FAO's Technical Cooperation Programme.

The UN agency is working with SADC and IRLCO-CSA to support the governments of the affected countries to control the locusts and the new project will increase the emergency capacity to support the four affected member states in their bid to prevent the pest from causing more damage.

The US$500 000 project will focus on emergency response in the locust hotspots and strengthen coordination and information exchange among the affected countries.

It will also enable aerial surveillance and mapping activities in hard-to-reach areas, and provide technical support for national locust surveillance and control units to be established.

FAO experts say the outbreaks of the African migratory locust in southern Africa are separate from those of the desert locust in eastern Africa.

Locusts are among the most destructive pests in the world. One swarm can contain tens of millions of adults and there are already multiple swarms in southern Africa.

A single swarm can eat as much in one day as 2 500 people, demolishing crops and livestock pasture in a matter of hours.

In Botswana, some smallholder farmers lost their entire crop at the start of the African migratory locust outbreak. As the next planting season approaches, the pest threatens the country's breadbasket region of Pandamatenga, where most of the country's sorghum staple is grown, unless control efforts are urgently stepped up.

In Namibia, initial outbreaks began in the Zambezi plains and hopper bands and swarms have now spread to key farming regions. In Zambia, the locust has spread rapidly and is affecting both crop and grazing lands.

In Zimbabwe, swarms and hoppers initially infested two sites in the Chiredzi district and have now moved into Manicaland.

Locust damage to crops will compound existing food insecurity in communities already affected by floods, drought and the impacts of Covid-19.

Large and aggressive swarms of these crop-devouring insects could cause devastating losses in the coming season which is likely to see most of SADC getting normal to above normal rains.

World Meteorological Organisation cited an article in Nature Climate Change and said while locusts have been here since biblical times, recent intense outbreaks can be linked to anthropogenic climate change and the increased frequency of extreme weather events.

East Africa is facing the worst locust attack in decades with swarming grasshoppers posing unprecedented threat to the food supply and livelihoods of millions of people.

Locusts, fall armyworm, armyworm and quelea birds are some of the pests that pose a threat to crops in Zimbabwe.

In Africa, the last major upsurge in the number of swarms in West Africa in 2003 - 05 cost US$2,5 billion in harvest losses, according to the UN.

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