Desert locust: Counting the cost for East Africa


With 19 million people risking acute food insecurity in East Africa, the desert locust migration continues worsening an already dire situation.

According to the UN-FAO, locusts are the most dangerous migratory pests.

The East African region already faces serious threats from climate change and now with the locusts exacerbating the situation, the challenge calls for concerted efforts to eradicate the pest.

Already, Somalia, South Sudan, Kenya and some parts of Tanzania have experienced the locust invasion.

Counting the cost

Crop and food losses in affected areas can be enormous, generating direct dramatic negative impacts on agriculture and livelihoods.

The situation has rapidly deteriorated over the past month in East Africa.

And it is not getting better. The long rainy season which will start in March, will bring with it a new wave of breeding and further spreading in the region. Damages to crop and pasture are already being reported in the three most affected countries- Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.

But these losses may quickly spread to other neighbouring countries, particularly Djibouti, Eritrea, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Yemen, Sudan, Iran, India and Pakistan are also at risk.

Financially, the FAO’s response plan estimates that around €70.3 million will be required for the most urgent activities for both Desert Locust control and agricultural livelihood protection and recovery.

Already, the EU has given an additional €10 million bringing the total amount donated by the union to €29.4 million which has been committed by the EU and international partners.

On human cost, the already vulnerable East African region has 27.5 million people suffering from severe food insecurity and now, at least 35 million more are at risk.

Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, stressed: “This crisis shows, once again, how fragile food systems can be when facing threats. The EU’s approach, in line with the Green Deal, puts sustainability at its heart. We must enhance the capacity to collectively respond to these threats and we also have a responsibility to step in now with resolve to avoid a major crisis, tackle the root causes of this natural disaster, and protect livelihoods and food production.”

FAO has formulated a response plan, but country interventions must be rapidly scaled-up to support national governments of the affected countries.

A narrow window of opportunity exists now to contain the disastrous outbreak and protect the livelihoods of millions of vulnerable people across East Africa and beyond.

Chinese ducks to fight locusts

East Africa is relying on aerial spraying of pesticides to kill the pest but in China, a bioweapon is being fronted as a possible response to the locust menace.

A desert locust outbreak in Pakistan has seen China plan a deployment of 100,000 ducks by June this year depending on the outcome of a trial Xinjiang.

Lu Lizhi, a senior researcher with the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences was quoted by the TIME saying that ducks can be more effective than pesticide.

With desert locusts wreaking havoc not only in Eastern Africa, South Asia is also experiencing the same problem where the hoppers are destroying crops and pastures.

Pakistan’s largest producing regions are suffering from the locust invasion threatening the already fragile economy. The pest is also said to be migrating into India. While East Africa does not have the ducks to fight the locust menace, the actual cost can only be known once the living clouds have been eliminated.

Digital solutions

With the situation deteriorating in East Africa and in other regions in Asia, FAO is seeking to fast-track a new mobile app development.

This follows the development of a tool to help track locusts movements and inform the issuing of early warning alerts. Released in 2015, eLocust3 enabled FAO to record field observations and transmit the data to the National Locust Centre in real-time via satellite.

The new iteration, eLocust3M, will be widely accessible to larger teams and the broader community.

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