GLOBAL INFORMATION AND EARLY WARNING SYSTEM ON FOOD AND AGRICULTURE 

SPECIAL ALERT NO. 294

LOCUST INFESTATION POSES A SERIOUS THREAT TO CROPS IN PARTS OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF INDEPENDENT STATES

29 July 1999

(Circulated only for countries where foodcrops or supply situation conditions give rise to concern)

OVERVIEW

Infestations of locusts, which developed in areas of Kazakhstan, notably in the east (Almaty area) and the north (Pavlodar oblast), have spread into adjoining areas of the Russian Federation. Recent reports indicate that swarms have also moved into Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The situation is serious as both farmers and the government in all the affected countries lack adequate resources and technology to deal effectively with the problem. The locusts, in addition to causing severe localised damage to crops in Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation, have laid eggs over millions of hectares. These eggs, unless destroyed, will hatch in the spring of 2000 posing a greater threat to next year's crops.

Locust infestations are an annual occurrence mainly in Kazakhstan and, to a lesser extent, in the Russian Federation, but the scale and intensity of the infestations have increased steadily over the past years. This year, in the Russian Federation, locust infestations are being reported from areas which have not experienced infestations since the 1920's. The major cause is the serious shortage of investment and working capital at all levels and the structural adjustment in the agriculture sector that has led to marginal land being taken out of production. The sharp increase in the amount of fallow land, particularly in Kazakhstan, which is left virtually untreated, has provided ideal breeding grounds for locusts and other pests.

SITUATION BY COUNTRY

Kazakhstan

Locust infestations in the drier western areas covered 1 million hectares this year, twice the area that had been anticipated earlier. Locusts have spread from their traditional breeding grounds in the west to northern (Pavlodar) and eastern (Almaty) areas. Official reports indicate that damage to this year's grain crops is very limited and the 1999 grain harvest continues to be forecast at an average of 9 million tonnes. However, severe localised damage to smallholdings has occurred in Pavlodar and Ust-Kamnegorsk. Moreover, indications are that locust have laid eggs on up to 9 million hectares. Funds of US$ 4.8 million made available by the government to purchase pesticides are inadequate to cope with the infestations. As only 2 million hectares have been treated to date, this poses a major threat to next year's crops also in the neighbouring countries. Already this year, there are isolated reports that locusts have spread into Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, where some 300 000 hectares are affected.

The locust damage will further aggravate the impact of the economic problems besetting the agriculture sector. The shortage of working capital on farm for essential inputs has been exacerbated by the depreciation of the national currency "tenge" following its flotation. Farm credit is even scarcer than last year. For the bulk of the farms which are in debt, - and whose bank earnings are impounded - barter is the only means of obtaining necessary inputs. However, farmers' ability to barter inputs has been affected by the poor harvest last year. The debt overhang, the shortages of working capital and fertiliser, machinery and agricultural chemicals have resulted in a further reduction in area sown to grains to 11 million hectares, including 9 million hectares of wheat.

Low oil prices and the impact of the Russian economic crisis have led to a contraction of the economy in 1998 and in 1999. In the first ten months of the current marketing year, nearly 2 million tonnes of grains were exported, including some 1.5 million tonnes to the Russian Federation and the neighbouring CIS countries. Kazakhstan's grain export capacity in the 1999/2000 marketing year will be important to the food security situation in the region in view of the drought reduced harvests in many Middle Eastern countries.

Russian Federation

The recent hot, dry weather in July has created ideal conditions for locusts. From the areas adjoining Kazakhstan, swarms have spread north as far as the Bashkir ASSR. Official indications are that infestations cover 1.1 million hectares of which 700 000 hectares have been treated to date. Infestations have now been reported in 31 regions, including some areas where infestations have not occurred for over past 70 years. The regions most severely affected include Altai, Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, Orenburg, Samara and Saratov. Localised severe crop damage to grains, pulses, sunflower and soybeans has occurred notably in Altai Kray and Novosibirsk, but unofficial reports of grain losses of up to 4 million tonnes due to pests this year have been officially rejected as exaggerated. In almost all regions, resources and pesticide availability are inadequate to combat the pests. To assist the regions, the central government has undertaken to contribute 36.3 million roubles (some US$1.5 million) from the central reserve fund for technical support and 41 million roubles (US$1.7 million) for pesticides to the affected.

The outlook for the 1999 grain harvest remains uncertain. Preliminary estimates indicate that the aggregate area sown to grains has fallen by 8 percent to about 48 million hectares. The area sown to winter grains fell by 4 percent and of the 13 million hectares sown, crops on 1.9 million hectares were affected by winterkill (1998: 1.1 million hectares). The area sown to spring grains also declined by 8 percent to 35.8 million hectares and hot and dry weather has reduced yield potential, particularly in areas west of the Urals.

Following last year's reduced harvest, officially put at only 48 million tonnes (only 64 percent of the five-year average), the country needs a good cereal harvest this year to meet minimum requirements and replenish the seriously depleted stocks. However, the combined effect of persistent economic problems and natural hazards could seriously compromise the recovery. Current indications point to a harvest of about 60 million tons, which is inadequate to cover domestic needs let alone to replenish stocks. The outlook is for the grain supply situation to remain extremely tight in 1999/2000, when potentially more severe locust infestations could cause larger crop losses than this year.

The shortage and high price of feedgrains has adversely affected livestock production and output, even of poultry - a sector which was showing signs of recovery until this year - is forecast to decline. However, demand for livestock products has also fallen because of the loss of purchasing power of the population. About half of the food aid pledged in 1998/99 (3.8 million tonnes of grain as well as meat, dairy and soybean products) is now expected to arrive between July and September 1999. These deliveries will help to ease the tight supply situation until the completion of the harvest in September and stabilise prices.

 

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO Secretariat with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact Mr. Abdur Rashid, Chief, ESCG, FAO, (Telex 610181 FAO I; Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495, E-Mail (INTERNET): GIEWS1@FAO.ORG) for further information if required.

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