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Transcription of the Director-General’s Opening Remarks at the Informal Briefing to the Members to launch the revised Desert Locust Appeal


Thursday 21 May, 15:30-17:00

Zoom Meeting


Hello, good morning to New York, to my friend Mr Mark Lowcock and also good afternoon in Europe, good evening Asia and other parts of the world.

We have just now celebrated International Tea Day, so it is afternoon teatime as created by the British and for New York now it is tea break in the morning.

Thank you, thank you all for joining us today. My appreciation goes to the Under-Secretary, Mr Mark Lowcock, for being online with us today, not only being here with us for this meeting, he has always been ready to support all the important actions: early warning action, and humanitarian aid and assistance. I very much appreciate his contribution and leadership.

Before we start, I would like to stress the tremendous amount of support that we have received from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for the desert locust response, not just in terms of money.

The USD 10 million from Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) that helped us act rapidly in buying and prepositioning pesticides and other essential items.

The USD 10 million loan, afterwards, to ensure that control operations were fully funded.

Beyond that, I would like to thank you, as I said, because as a partner and as an advocate, OCHA has been second to none in these difficult times.

There are a lot of actions and responses to these events.

Mr Lowcock and I are in regular contact regarding the progress of the operations. Together, OCHA and FAO have conducted many member briefings in New York, Rome, Geneva and Nairobi.

In early February, we co-organized a meeting with the Government of Ethiopia and the African Union Commission (AUC) to brief ministers and officials from the eight Eastern African countries, key partners and media on the dire situation of desert locust in the region.

Back then, we had warned that if the outbreak was not under control, the current situation would be seriously amplified by new locust infestations, with a greater possibility of spreading further to Eritrea, South Sudan and Uganda.

The political will we rallied for, at these events was of great importance in ensuring action and sub-regional coordination.

Indeed, the political leadership, national authorities, and local extension services, have led the response, maintaining operations and prioritizing locust control, even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. This deserves our recognition and respect.

Resource partners have also stepped up quickly and generously. Both our traditional partners and new partners like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the MasterCard Foundation and the Louis Dreyfus Foundation have assisted us greatly and very quickly, at the early stage,when we started. My sincere appreciation for that.

To date, FAO has raised USD 131 million for its current response plan. This has helped us ensure continuity in our control operations. We also managed to continue the roll-out of activities that help farmers and pastoralists recover from locust impacts and keep their livelihood assets safe.

Our gains have been significant, but the battle is long and is spreading to new areas.

It is clear that we cannot declare victory yet. Upsurges of this magnitude are rarely defeated in a few months. It took two years to get the last desert locust upsurge under control; this is based on our experience in the past.


The desert locust threat remains one of the priorities for FAO. Yes, we know that the COVID-19 pandemic is making activities on the ground even more difficult.

We wanted to reassure you that we are sparing no efforts to ensure that the control operations are not interrupted because countries that are already experiencing a high level of acute food insecurity are being hit hard by the desert locusts.

Of the ten worst food crises in 2019, four are now affected by the desert locust upsurge. These are Ethiopia, South Sudan, the Sudan and Yemen, while high levels of acute food insecurity also prevail in the locust affected areas of Pakistan.

I was there in the middle of February, directly from New York to there. I visited the field there also. In the Sahel too, where there has been a large increase in acute food insecurity over the last year, the desert locust now poses a new threat. We were planning to visit there together with Mr Mark Lowcock, but since this pandemic came, we postponed this visit to the eastern Horn of Africa.

One thing is very clear, if we do not sustain ongoing operations, scale them up to meet the emerging needs and prepare for the new desert locust threats, the locusts combined with the impacts of COVID-19, could have catastrophic consequences on livelihoods and food security.

And it is not just the current locust crisis that we need to address. We continue to work with regional locust commissions, regional authorities, and with national governments to build the capacity to monitor, prepare for, and respond to the future outbreaks.

In fact, we are joined today by Dr Adoum from the Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) and Dr Gebeyehu from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

It is not just the short term that matters, but also the long term behind-the-scenes work that determines whether our response to the desert locust and other pests is successful.

For this reason, we welcome the expected announcement by the World Bank Group, that it will be launching a USD 500 million programme to help countries in Africa and the Middle East to withstand the locust’s impacts.

What is really exciting about the Bank’s new Emergency Locust Response Programme, is that it focuses on the livelihoods recovery in the medium term. The programme will also provide funding for investment in surveillance and early warning systems so that countries are better prepared in the future.

We appreciate that the Bank, just like FAO, is thinking ahead, in the long run, and also we share the same philosophy with Mr Lowcock.

We need to combine the humanitarian aid with development for the future. That is how we will keep sustainable improvement, otherwise you always have to deal with emergencies. Of course, we need emergency assistance but this is only one step, it is not a goal, it is not the end. That is why we really appreciate that the Bank and Mr Lowcock share the same philosophy with FAO. Our efforts are complementary and we look forward to continue our close collaboration with the Bank in this programme and beyond.



Ladies and gentleman,

FAO is very much committed to transparency and accountability. We have a publically accessible dashboard. From February, I already asked to establish a traceability of the operations that shows what we are doing and where we are working.

As I said, if you ask for money to support, then you need to report at regular times and more traceability – more traceable and more deliverable. That is what we should do. That is also what the donors are expecting, that the people we serve, they are also guaranteed the quality; not only quantity, but also the quality.

Just last week, FAO issued a report summarizing the operations to date. I am also very pleased to inform you that the FAO Office of Evaluation (OED) is preparing for a real time evaluation of the desert locust response. You know, the Office of Evaluation is closely watching, they investigate what the teams are doing. This way, we draw lessons from the first months of operations and further strengthen the quality of response in the coming period.

We will present the latest findings to you in just a few moments and let me state how proud I am that FAO has supported the governments in saving, according to preliminary and rather conservative estimates, 720 thousand tonnes of cereals with a value of around USD 220 million.

In February I told Mr Lowcock, we need to calculate some kind of a prevention value. Not only when the disaster happening, it is too late, in my opinion. We really use less or limited investment to stop, reduce or minimize the risk. That is a real value.

That is enough to feed almost 5 million people for one year. Also, as we helped prevent damage from occurring to the vegetation that is used to feed livestock. This saved the livelihoods of an additional 350 thousand pastoral households.

Since the beginning of this year, we have supported national governments in treating about 400 thousand hectares, and this number is rising every day.


These are encouraging results, but the threat remains and it is growing in new areas. We remain vigilant and active in fighting the pest.

Together with the governments and partners, we are closely monitoring the evolving situation. We are continuing ongoing operation in the Greater Horn of Africa and Yemen, scaling up to reach new areas under threat in Iran and Pakistan.

The other day I had a very good meeting with Ministers from the UK and Canada, and also other governments. We really want to help the people who really are in the vulnerable regions and the provinces.

We are getting ready for the potential threat in new areas, like West Africa and the Sahel. However, we need a sustained financial support to do so.

I remember this is my third time to brief the Members. Of course, my team. Mr Laurent Thomas,Mr Dominique Burgeon and others, they have briefed more times. I think that is the way to build-up trust and accountability. Otherwise, people do not know what we are doing, and what challenges we face.

Therefore, let us share the responsibility, share the mandate. There is a proverb in China that says, ‘If you want a bigger fire during wintertime, everyone, add a small stick, then you can make a big fire to make this cold season warm’.

We count on you. To mobilize resources now, to advocate on behalf of those most in need, and to work with us in combatting this threat.

Because together we can make a difference. Just as I said, add one small stick and we can make a bigger fire all together.

Thank you Mr Lowcock, my dear friend, and thank you, Members.