Desert Locust Upsurge may be Declining but Remaining Swarms Require Vigilance in East Africa and Yemen

31 March 2020, Kipsing, near Oldonyiro, Isiolo county - A desert locusts swarm flies in the region. The current situation in East Africa remains extremely alarming as hopper bands and an increasing number of new swarms are forming in Kenya, southern Ethiopia and Somalia. This represents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods because it coincides with the beginning of the long rains and the planting season. FAO scales up its emergency response with a massive, border-spanning campaign needed to combat the locust upsurge.
28 October 2021
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While the Desert Locust upsurge that swept through the Horn of Africa and Yemen may be declining, it is critical to continue implementing control efforts against any new swarms and monitoring subsequent breeding in the region until at least the end of the year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

A new $11.2 million partnership with the Mastercard Foundation means that locust surveillance and control efforts are now fully supported to the end of the year.

"Depending on weather conditions and our ability to reach breeding and migration areas, the upsurge could be over by the end of 2021 or in early 2022," said Rein Paulsen, the Director of FAO's Office of Emergencies and Resilience.

"Until then, we must not drop our guard. Thanks to the generous contributions of various partners, national teams guided by FAO experts are continuing to undertake the necessary survey and control operations in the affected countries."

The campaign against Desert Locusts in the Greater Horn of Africa and Yemen has been underway since January 2020. FAO and the affected countries have gained major successes in containing the worst recorded locust upsurge in Ethiopia and Somalia in 25 years and the worst infestations seen in Kenya in70 years.

The Minister for Agriculture of Somaliland sits in a meeting with FAO delegates in Hargeisa, Somaliland. Wednesday 4th March, 2020. The Minister for Agriculture, Ahmed Mumin Seed, said that they fear a nation-wide disaster brought on by the nymphs left behind by the locusts swarms that stripped fields and damaged crops last year. He added that some of the nymphs have already been spotted in the coastal areas of Somaliland such a Zeylac. "We are informing our partners that these nymphs are waiting for the first drops of rain to hatch and that if it does so, it will bring on us a great deal of damage".

With the support of 29 partners and FAO's own resources, more than $230 million was mobilized for the locust campaign. The Mastercard Foundation previously partnered with FAO in April 2020 contributing $10 million to the early detection of locust swarms, ground and aerial spraying operations, and impact assessments on the ground.

"The Desert Locust swarms weren't just eating away at crops; they were eating away livelihoods, productivity, and the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. As a foundation committed to enabling access to opportunity in Africa, we felt compelled to step up and address the crisis. The progress FAO has made is deeply encouraging—and holding on to the ground gained is critical to a process of reclaiming hope for farmers and communities in the region," said Daniel Hailu, Mastercard Foundation's Regional Director, East and Southern Africa.

Control operations undertaken by FAO and its partners protected the livelihoods of more than 40 million people in rural areas, saving crops and pasture and thereby securing households' cereal and milk supplies. FAO estimates that around 4.4 million tonnes of cereal crops and some 878 million litres of milk were saved and the value of saved production exceeded $1.7 billion.

31 March 2020 Lewa Wildlife Conservancy airstrip, close to Isiolo, Isiolo county, Kenya. Pilot from Orsmond Aviation, South Africa based company, ready for take off on mission to do aerial spraying. Spray airplanes on the airstrip, ground crew are fueling the plane and loading it with chemicals in preparation for aerial spraying to fight locusts swarms in the area.

"It was an extraordinary effort in a short space of time. Together, we not only controlled the onslaught of this insidious pest but FAO managed to strengthen locust fighting capacity in East Africa from near zero in some places to a high level of readiness," said Paulsen.

The Desert Locust is considered the most destructive migratory pest in the world and a small swarm covering one square kilometre can eat the same amount of food in one day as 35 000 people.

Swarms the size of cities were vanquished and now a very small number of remnant swarms remain in Ethiopia and Somalia. Kenya is locust free and Djibouti and Eritrea are relatively calm and under control.

Lingering risks

Despite progress, there is continuing concern about northern Ethiopia where new swarms have formed in the past month as local conflict has limited control operations. The swarms may pose a risk to the critical Meher season harvest, already anticipated to be 40 percent below normal.

FAO forecasts suggest these swarms will migrate north out of Ethiopia or into eastern regions of the country where control operations are possible. However, there is concern about how many might remain and whether they threaten crops in a highly food insecure region.

New swarms from Yemen where controls remain a challenge could also pose a threat if they move south across the Gulf of Aden and reinvade the Horn of Africa.

2 June 2020, Loima, Kenya - A Turkana man stands at a severely damaged sorghum crop part of his community farm providing food for 100 households in Loima, Turkana County, Kenya. An increasing number of second-generation immature swarms continue to form in northwest Kenya.

Livelihoods support for farmers and their families

Despite the success of the locust control operations, up to 2.5 million people were affected by the upsurge in 2020 in addition to at least another 1 million in early 2021.

FAO has been helping farmers who suffered locust damage with agricultural support packages, providing veterinary care for vegetation-starved livestock, and making cash transfers to families who have lost their crops so that they can purchase food.

To mitigate the devastating impact on livelihoods, FAO provided diverse support to over 300 000 farming, agro-pastoral and pastoral households, while an additional 347 000 families were assisted by partner non‐governmental organizations under the Regional Desert Locust Alliance (RDLA). Together, these activities assisted over 4 million people.

While regional and local preparedness and field operations are much improved, they can only be supported with effective forecasting and early warning, which FAO's Desert Locust Information Service has been providing for more than 50 years.

 

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