Locust alert in Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation
Swarms of locusts are spreading from their traditional breeding areas in Kazakhstan into the Russian Federation, Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan, according to an FAO Special News Alert. The locusts have caused severe localized crop damage in Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation and are reported to have laid eggs over millions of hectares of land. Calling the situation "serious", the Special Alert warns that if the eggs are not destroyed, these countries could face an even larger locust infestation in 2000. However, neither farmers nor the governments in the region have the resources to treat the affected areas.
In Kazakhstan's dry regions, and to a lesser extent in the Russian Federation, locusts infestations occur annually. However, the scale and intensity of the infestations have increased steadily over the last several years, as the economic crisis in the agriculture sector has forced many farmers to leave marginal lands fallow. These untended lands provide suitable breeding areas for locusts and other pests.
This year's infestation in Kazakhstan is twice as large as anticipated, affecting 6 to 8 million hectares of which 2 million have been treated so far. The News Alert notes that damage to the overall grain harvest is expected to be limited, but reports that some small-scale farmers in the northeastern regions of the country, near the cities of Pavlodar and Ust-Kamnegorsk, have suffered severe losses. As the locusts have spread, they have laid eggs on up to 9 million hectares of land. The Kazakh government is spending US$4.8 million on pesticides, but this will not be enough to cope with the infestation.
The swarms of locusts have crossed into Uzbekistan and Kyrgystan, affecting 300 000 hectares of farmland. The situation is worse in the Russian Federation, where hot dry weather has created ideal conditions for locusts. Some areas are reporting locust infestations for the first time in 70 years. Infestations have been recorded in the important grain-producing regions around Orenburg, Samara and Saratov. There has also been severe localized crop damage to grains, pulses, sunflowers and soybeans in Atlai Kray and Novosibirsk. Reports of infestations have also come from the eastern city of Irkutsk. Official indications are that 1.1 million hectares have been affected. To deal with the problem, the Russian government has budgeted US$1.5 million for technical support and another $1.7 million for pesticides. So far, 700 000 hectares have been treated.
Throughout the region, the ongoing crisis in the agricultural sector, caused by lack of capital, currency devaluations and massive economic restructuring has led to declines in the grain harvest. Russia's yield last year was 48 million tonnes, only 64 percent of the five-year average. This year's locust infestations combined with late frost and drought, and the threat of even more extreme infestations next year, may seriously undermine efforts at a recovery in food production in the region.
2 August 1999