Locust Swarms Are Threatening Harvests In East Africa- FAO

A locust-affected area in East Africa….Photo Credit:

Agricultural droughts and conflicts have aggravated food insecurity in Africa and the desert locust outbreak in East Africa is further threatening the livelihoods and food security of millions of people, according to a report in

34 countries in Africa are in need of external assistance for food, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

In its latest edition of the quarterly report “Crop Prospects and Food Situation“, the agency writes that the effects of inadequate rainfall on agricultural production added two countries – Namibia and Tanzania – to the list of countries in need of external assistance for food. The list currently comprises 44 countries worldwide.

FAO warns that the desert locusts have not yet fully developed their destructive potential since so far they only had minimal impact on crops in Africa because in late 2019 the main cropping areas were largely outside of the infested areas and harvests had largely been concluded before the scourge arrived.

However, there are serious concerns for 2020. In East Africa, where planting of the main 2020 cereal crop will begin in March/April, the widespread outbreak of desert locusts poses a serious risk to crops and pasture resources and the food security of the people.

With the current biomass conditions at well-above-average levels and weather forecasts pointing to above-average March-May rains, favourable breeding conditions are expected at least until June 2020, raising the risk of outbreaks in other areas.

“Farms in Ethiopia and Somalia can expect substantial crop losses if control measures are not scaled up, with the important seasonal ‘Gu’ harvest in Somalia at risk, which accounts for about 60 per cent of the country’s total annual cereal output,” the report warns. “Locusts are already present in Somalia’s key sorghum producing areas and are near the main maize growing areas.”

According to FAO’s latest “Desert Locust situation update“published on March 10, the situation remains extremely alarming in East Africa, specifically Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia where widespread breeding is in progress and new swarms are starting to form. But desert locusts are also present in Eritrea, especially at the northern coast of the Red Sea near the Sudan border.

For the period March to June, the number of desert locusts is projected to increase by up to 400-fold in the Horn of Africa. This represents “an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods at the beginning of the upcoming cropping season,” FAO warns.

Desert locusts are highly mobile and can travel on the wind up to 150 km per day. They feed on large quantities of any kind of green vegetation, including crops, pasture and fodder. A typical swarm can be made up of 150 million locusts per square kilometre. But FAO says that even a very small, 1 km2 locust swarm can eat the same amount of food in one day as about 35 000 people.

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