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Delivering biopesticides in Somalia

Apr 2020

East Africa is going through a massive desert locust infestation that’s stripping farming families of food and income and threatening the food security of millions throughout the region. And the number of locusts keeps growing. In emergencies like these, killing locusts with pesticides is a necessary evil to limit the crisis and prevent swarms from multiplying exponentially. Increasingly, nature-based biopesticides offer a reliable, less harmful alternative for controlling locust outbreaks before they reach crisis levels. They also offer a solution for treating outbreaks in fragile ecosystems.

As the name suggests, biopesticides repurpose nature’s own tools and use them against pests. One popular set of bio tools are microbes, meaning bacteria, fungi and viruses that affect critters. Fungi of the Metarhizium acridum family, in particular, have proven to be very effective in controlling locusts, killing hoppers and adults within a week or two. Commercial brands use this kind of fungus in their powder products. Such powders are mixed with oil and sprayed onto fields from planes or trucks. The fungus then penetrates the locust’s hard outer layer and starts feeding on the insect, sapping away its energy. The locust starts to get weaker within three days, becomes sluggish, feeds less and eventually dies. The oil used to prepare the biopesticide is often diesel oil – although vegetable oil is also an option. But because no more than 1 litre of oil is used per hectare of land, studies of past treatment campaigns have not detected any negative environmental impacts.

Author: FAO/Somalia

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