Photograph — strangesounds.org

In January, the United Nations Central Emergency Fund (CERF) approved a $10 million loan for the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in the fight against the upsurge of desert locust in East Africa.

This CERF loan has been used to increase the desert locust control operations, by making pesticides available, hiring helicopters and aircraft, the purchase of vehicles with spray equipment as well as conducting an assessment of the environmental impact in the most affected countries.

Several African countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Chad, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda have been infected by the locust outbreak. FAO’s  Desert Locust Information Service  report says it is the worst outbreak to strike Ethiopia and Somalia for 25 years and the worst infestation that Kenya has experienced in 70 years. Djibouti and Eritrea have also been affected.

However, East African countries are in a difficult situation as the locust outbreak has caused severe food scarcity in a region where 20 million people are already dealing with food insecurity. The swarms have laid eggs and at the start of the countries agricultural season, in a few weeks’ time, will mature and start to eat crops

With the rapid spread of the locust outbreak, FAO recently raised its appeal to $153 million to assist the countries that have been impacted. This also includes $15.2 million for the potential threats posed by the pests to Sudan and Yemen. So far around $107 million have been pledged or received from donors so we urgently need to fill the gap.

FAO is working closely with governments, and other partners to fight the outbreak, by deploying locust experts and other personnel in assisting the governments with their surveillance and coordination. They are also providing technical advice and assistance with the procurement of supplies and equipment for aerial and ground operations.

In Kenya, 600 youth have been trained and dispatched for ground and surveillance control. Three new planes have been handed over to the Government, increasing the treating capacity to over 1,500 hectares per day. Ten vehicle-mounted sprayers will be provided to the Kenyan government in the coming days, making it possible to treat an additional 5,000 hectares of locust-infested land each day. 

Ethiopia has also acquired a new FAO-procured high-speed turboprop aircraft, which has boosted the country’s ability to conduct aerial spraying. A second plane will be handed over to Ethiopian officials to boost aerial spraying by the end of March, with over 40,000 liters of chemical pesticides delivered to the government.

In Somalia, bands of juvenile hopper locusts are being treated with a biopesticide made from a natural fungus, which feeds on the insect, weakening and then eventually killing it without the use of chemicals. Spraying equipment (8 Vehicle Mounted Sprayers) and other equipment have been delivered to increase control operations. 

The locust invasion has increased food insecurity in the fragile Horn of Africa countries. Not just that, food prices have gone up as a result of food scarcity in the consumer price index basket.

Moreover, low per-capita incomes in East Africa, coupled with high-income inequality and high poverty levels, make these countries vulnerable and less able to absorb shocks and deal with global disasters.

Nevertheless, desert locust monitoring, forecasting, control, and eradication has become a goal for FAO. It’s desert locust Information Service has been in operation for nearly 50 years and has a well-established field presence, the ability to link up authorities from different countries, and expertise in desert locust management. This has made a significant impact on the control and eradication of desert locust.

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