OUTBREAKS of locusts are threatening the food security and livelihoods of millions of people in the southern African region.
The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on Friday warned the African migratory locust (AML) poses a threat for Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The FAO launched an emergency response effort to control swarms, which is funded by its Technical Cooperation Programme.
The organisation said around seven million people in the four affected countries are still recovering from the impact of last year's drought and are grappling with the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
They could now experience further food and nutrition insecurity.
The project will increase the emergency capacity of the South African Development Community (SADC) and the International Red Locust Control Organisation for Central and Southern Africa (IRLCO-CSA) to support the four affected member states.
The US$500 000 project will focus on emergency responses in locust hotspots and strengthen coordination and information exchange between 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 and strengthened.
The FAO is working with SADC and the IRLCO-CSA to support the governments of the affected countries to control the locusts.
"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, the SADC and partner organisations like IRLCO-CSA to control this pest and protect people's livelihoods," Patrice Talla, FAO sub-regional coordinator for southern Africa, said.
Locusts are among the most destructive pests in the world. One swarm can contain tens of millions of adults, and there are currently multiple swarms in the southern African region.
A single swarm can eat as much crops as 2 500 people can eat in one day. According to the FAO, some smaller farms in Botswana lost their entire crop at the start of the AML outbreak.
In Namibia, the FAO said initial outbreaks began in the Zambezi plains, and hopper bands and swarms have now spread to key farming regions.
Similarly, in Zambia, the locust swarms have spread rapidly and are affecting both crop and grazing lands.
Swarms and hoppers initially infested two sites in the Chiredzi district in Zimbabwe and have now moved into the Manicaland province.