The Red Locust, Nomadacris septemfasciata (Serville, 1838), is a very hazardous insect pest to agriculture in Eastern, Central and Southern Africa and breeds in specific grassland areas located in Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.
In 2008 aerial surveys undertaken by the International Red Locust Control Organization for Central and Southern Africa (IRLCO-CSA) detected an unusual increase in locust numbers. The extent of the increase of the infestation was more dangerous compared to the last major upsurge in 1994-96 because outbreaks took place simultaneously in three countries: Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique. This situation risked overstretching the limited capacities of IRLCO-CSA and the affected countries and posed an immediate threat to marginal and small-scale agricultural production, not only in the directly affected countries but in the whole region. Around 15 million people of Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe were estimated to be extremely vulnerable and at risk to additional livelihood-threatening shocks. An unchecked Red Locust plague would have added to risks in the humanitarian crisis in the region. It was therefore crucial to launch intensive survey and control operations by no later than May 2009.
In view of its limited resources to effectively prevent a major upsurge, in early March IRLCO-CSA addressed, on behalf of its member countries, a request for emergency assistance to FAO. FAO reacted promptly and submitted a proposal for a regional emergency response project to UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) in New York on 20 March. On 28 April the CERF Secretariat granted the first regional emergency assistance worth nearly US$ 2 million which allowed large- scale aerial survey and control operations with the objective to preserve food security and livelihoods of rural populations and to mitigate further spreading of the Red Locust into neighbouring countries.
Parallel to the fund-raising, FAO initiated, based on the Desert Locust experience, advanced arrangements in consultation with the affected countries, IRLCO and WFP and met all time-critical targets:
- The logistical support to the locust operations (transport of water, pesticides, fuel, camping equipment defined and in place by early May 2009;
- Seasonal camps in the target areas established and operational by mid-May 2009;
- Staff from sector ministries of agriculture seconded to the operations by mid-May 2009;
- The size of the infested areas defined and mapped by mid-May 2009;
- One high capacity spray aircraft hired and operational in Tabora, Tanzania, by mid-May 2009 latest;
- At least 10,000 litres of certified chemical pesticides in accordance with international standards made available from remaining stocks in Mali and delivered with support from WFP to the IRLCO-CSA base by mid-May 2009 latest;
- At least 800 kg of a mycopesticide made of spores of the entomopathogen Metarhizium anisopliae var, acridum purchased and delivered by mid May 2009 latest and being applied for controlling the locusts in ecologically valuable areas in Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique as required.
A full locust campaign against adult Red Locust swarms was launched and conducted from 22 May to end of July 2009 in western Tanzania, since this country was most seriously at risk. The operation addressed both the humanitarian and environmental dimensions of national and regional significance.
The operation included the use of bio-pesticides as alternative to chemical pesticides for the first time at an operational scale in Africa in ecologically significant areas such as the Ikuu wetlands of the Katavi National Park, as the use of chemical pesticides in that area in past campaigns had caused long-lasting harm to many important non-target species. The move towards the use of a biopesticide was enthusiastically supported by the Tanzanian National Park Authorities and fully accepted by IRLCO-CSA and the Government.
Approximately 145,000 ha were surveyed by air. Locust populations at suitable target densities were located and 22,000 ha treated. The control operations conducted in the Ikuu with the biocontrol product on almost 10,000 ha achieved at least 70% reduction of the locust population by the cessation of operations in July.
An evaluation mission organised by the FAO Office of Evaluation in September 2009 with the objective to review the operations specifically in Tanzania confirmed that the overall control programme was very successful. The early intervention and timely response prevented a major humanitarian crisis due to the Red Locust in Central and Southern Africa. An estimated 598,000 ha of food crops were protected in Tanzania alone. The mission also stated that the mycopesticide based on Metarhizium anisopliae var, acridum can be used successfully for large scale management of Red Locust populations in ecologically sensitive breeding areas.