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Locust control campaign covers millions of hectares but the voracious pest is still a threat in East Africa

Locust control campaign covers millions of hectares but the voracious pest is still a threat in East Africa

29/10/2020

Questions and Answers with Keith Cressman, FAO's Senior Locust Forecasting Officer

Why are we seeing a resurgence of Desert Locust in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula? 

Well, as we predicted, climatic conditions are driving this new round of locust activity. In many areas, rains came early, triggering earlier than usual reproduction; other areas continue to get steady rains, which sparks locust breeding. Large swathes of Yemen that are inaccessible are also key locust breeding grounds -- basically a reservoir for the pest.

We always knew that seasonal change in winds plus these rains would spark another uptick in activity. And that this activity would be significant, given the  high numbers of locusts that have been present in the region since January. So though large scale control operations have significantly improved the situation, locust populations remain in the region -- especially in remote, hard to reach areas where surveillance or control operations are not possible.

Early and ongoing rains have led to a new cycle of breeding and fresh swarms are forming in Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen. Immature hopper bands have also been identified in Eritrea, The Sudan and Saudi Arabia and are likely to form new swarms. The winds over the northern portion of the Horn of Africa are now starting to blow southwards again raising concerns they could again reach Kenya later in the year.

Does this mean that efforts to control the upsurge have failed?

Quite the opposite. A massive humanitarian disaster has been averted.  With international support coordinated by FAO, over 1.1 million hectares of land in 10 countries have been surveyed and treated for locust infestation since January. When you add in locust control efforts outside of East Africa and Yemen, 2.3 million hectares of land have been controlled this year.

These operations have prevented the loss of 2.3 million tonnes of cereal - enough to feed more than 15 million people a year - in countries already hard hit by acute food insecurity and poverty. And our efforts have blunted impacts to an estimated 1.1 million pastoralist families, as well.

It's important to remember, by the way, that efforts to contain the last large desert locust upsurge, in Africa's Sahel region, lasted two whole years, from 2003 to 2005. The scale of the challenge and the time required to contain it should not be underestimated.

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