FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation

Will the Desert Locust land in Russia? FAO experts have the answer

Photo: © FAO/Vladimir Mikheev

On 23 June, FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation held a webinar on the ongoing locust infestation in East Africa and the growing threat to the Caucasus and Central Asia (CCA), as well as the Russian Federation, and presented the measures taken by FAO to control pests. 

The Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is the most destructive migratory pest in the world. They are ravenous eaters who consume their own weight per day, targeting food crops and forage. 

FAO has designated the Desert Locust upsurge in East Africa as one of its highest corporate priorities and is moving swiftly to support governments in responding. 

Moreover, locusts and grasshoppers are serious threats for agriculture in Caucasus and Central Asia (CCA). Three locust pests, the Italian (CIT, Calliptamus italicus), the Moroccan (DMA, Dociostaurus maroccanus) and the Migratory (LMI, Locusta migratoria) locusts jeopardize food security and livelihoods in both regions as well as in adjacent areas of northern Afghanistan and southern parts of the Russian Federation. Over 25 million hectares of cultivated areas are potentially at risk. 

Can swarms of the desert locust reach the CCA region? “This has happened in the past. Flocks have flown through Afghanistan to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (almost to the Aral sea!) in 1929,” Mr Alexandre Latchininsky, Agricultural Officer (Locust Management), FAO Plant Protection Division, said in his speech at the webinar. Flying pests entered Azerbaijan and Armenia through Iran in 1930. The last large-scale invasion of Turkmenistan occurred in 1962. 

“In the past, such intrusions occured in the spring, until June. In summer and autumn, such misfortunes are unlikely,” the FAO expert explained the situation. 

“Dear colleagues, together with the Ministry of Agriculture, the FAO headquarters in Rome and the FAO regional headquarters in Budapest, we are holding a webinar to discuss the invasion of locusts in a number of countries, bringing on board seasoned international experts,” said the moderator of the discussion Mr Oleg Kobiakov, Director of the FAO Liaison Office with the Russian Federation. 

“The current situation with the spread of locusts in the world has no analogues,” he stressed. “However, the successes in the fight against the pest is visible. As FAO Director General Qu Dongyu noted today, the number of affected areas in Kenya has been reduced from 30 to two. The financial resources of donors also play an important role, and they produce significant results. We hope that they will proceed financing the work by FAO.” 

Mr Vladimir Rakhmanin, FAO Assistant Director-General, Regional Representative for Europe and Central Asia, pointed out that “losses caused by the pest are superimposed on the damage inflicted on food networks by the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. This further worsens the food security situation in these countries, especially for rural residents who have lost their food crops and livestock feed.” 

“In this unprecedented situation in Eastern Africa, FAO, in accordance with its mandate, has launched a broad international operation to help national governments, farmers and agricultural producers contain Desert Locust upsurge. 

“FAO coordinates national efforts, supports monitoring, chemical and biological pest control from the air and on the ground, and supports farmers who have lost their sources of income and food,” the FAO ADG noted. 

“According to FAO estimates, it is necessary to significantly intensify these efforts. In the upcoming rainy season, the number of locusts may increase by another 20 times. In this regard, the FAO recently increased the amount of the necessary donor contributions to fight locusts almost twice, to $311.6 million,” Vladimir Rakhmanin emphasized. 

Mr Alexander Malko, Director, Federal State Institution “Russian Agricultural Center” (Rosselkhozcentre) of the Ministry of Agriculture, outlined the challenges due to the spread of locusts in the Russian Federation in the first half of 2020. In his opening speech, A. Malko noted the Rosselkhozcentre actively cooperates with the FAO: “We use the best achievements (best practices) and the scientific approach of the FAO.” Noteworthy, over 30 representatives of Rosselkhozcentre in the regions took part in the webinar. 

In his presentation, the Head of Rosselkhozcentre explained that grasshopers are more common on the territory of Russia. Locusts are less common, but more harmful; among locust species there are Asian Migratory Locusts, Italian Locusts and Moroccan Locusts. 

Due to the mass spread of locust pests, a high-alert regime was introduced in May 2020 in a number of regions of the Chechen Republic and the Republic of Kalmykia. This year, more than 305,000 hectares were treated for locust pests, for which 449 units of equipment were used, including 24 aircraft. The Rosselkhozcentre website contains an interactive map showing the spread of locust pests in the regions of Russia. This year, it is working on a GPS map of locust pest hearths. 

The program of joint surveys on the border territories of Russia and the Republic of Kazakhstan is being effectively implemented. This year, almost 17,000 hectares were surveyed, while information on pest populations and analysis of the phytosanitary situation is being exchanged. 

In his presentation, Mr Dominique Burgeon, Director of FAO's Emergency and Rehabilitation Division, focused on “The Locust Emergency and FAO actions globally: the Russian contribution”. 

FAO’s response to the Desert Locust upsurge rests on three pillars, detailed the FAO expert. Curb the spread of desert locust:Surveillance, early detection and forecasting; Desert locust control operations (aerial and ground); Impact assessments and environment, health and safety. Safeguard livelihoods and promote early recovery: Cash interventions; Supplementary livestock feed and forage production; Crop and vegetable production inputs and services. Coordination and preparedness: Deploy rapid surge support; Facilitate regional partnerships, collaboration, coordination and advocacy; Strengthen regional and national capacity and enhance preparedness. 

“In order to curb the spread (of Desert Locust in the African countries) FAO has established control over 466,500 hectares of land,” Mr Burgeon noted. As a result of the timely concerted actions taken by FAO, it was made possible to avert by harvest time in June crop loss to the tune of 972,000 tons. The value of saved crop totals $291 million, meaning that 451,000 pastoral households will be able to feed their livestock, and 6,5 million people will manage to meet their cereals needs. 

FAO continues to appeal to donors to cope with the large-scale humanitarian operations. For the moment, the FAO expert emphasized, “The total funding received is USD 178.9 million against the overall appeal of USD 312 million with a gap of USD 133 million.”

In this context, Mr Burgeon referred to the recent contribution by the Russian Federation to facilitate the fight against the Desert Locust outbreak in East Africa by making a $10 million contribution to support FAO operations in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan and Uganda. “Delighted to partner with Russia in support of this global endeavor in the context of the current emergency,” Mr Burgeon emphasized and added, he believed, “this is only the beginning of partnership with Russia.” 

Mr Cyril Ferrand, FAO's Resilience Team Leader for East Africa, highlighted FAO response to the locust threat in East Africa. With 20 mln people in the Horn of Africa affected by the deepening crisis in the region, FAO is concerned, in particular, that the region is now “entering the dry season”, which will witness the new generation of Desert Locusts. There is also the challenges of the “the reduced mobility of rural communities due to COVID-19.”  

FAO is rendering several types of support to people in the affected areas. First of all, there is “cash contribution to communities that suffered most in order to prevent loss of income”, Mr Ferrand informed. Secondly, FAO provides feed for livestock to prevent loss of animals, and thirdly, engage farmers with input packages e.g. access to irrigation, with the aim to help prepare for the next season that starts end of August-September. 

Mr Alexandre Latchininsky, Agricultural Officer (Locust Management), FAO Plant Protection Division, described the state of affairs in the context of the locust threat in the Caucasus and Central Asia (CCA). This is no accident that the Bible calls the invasion of locusts “the eighth plague of Egypt,” noted A. Latchininsky. The aggressive spread of this voracious pest  could potentially affect more than 20 million people living in 10 countries. Why did this happen? 

“When the weather and natural enemies cannot contain the mass reproduction of locusts, it goes from a solitary phase to gregarious phase, and an outbreak occurs,” the expert explained. Therefore, FAO has adopted a preventive approach to locust control. 

“It is easier to prevent a fire than to extinguish it. The preventive strategy is based on careful monitoring of locust populations during key periods of their development, in order to detect changes in locust numbers, density and behavior as early as possible,” the FAO expert explained. 

There are new challenges associated with climate change. Thus, the habitat of the Italian Locust is expanding to the North. The Moroccan Locust breeding occurs at higher altitudes than before, if earlier it happened at 1000-1200 meters, now it is at 2000-2500 meters. 

Asian Migratory Locust produced the second generation in recent years, which is rare. At the same time, it inhabits swamps, which makes it difficult to survey, and develops near water reservoirs, which causes the need to apply only pesticides suitable for environmentally sensitive areas. 

Locusts easily fly from one country to another, crossing state borders. The problem of cross-border flights affects many. This year, it was necessary to cancel the multilateral measures of states to combat locusts due to the coronavirus pandemic, which, according to the expert, will have a negative implication next year. 

Ms Marion Chiris, Locust Programme Officer, FAO Plant Protection Division, detailed FAO's Programme to improve national and regional locust management in Caucasus and Central Asia (CCA) aimed at reducing locust threat and contribution to protect food security and livelihood. 

The Programme has been implemented since October 2011 to the benefit of ten countries, namely Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. It is part of the FAO “Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests and Diseases (EMPRES)” approach. 

“Its overall objective, Ms Chiris noted, is to reduce occurrence and intensity of locust outbreaks in CCA, thus limiting threat or damage to crops and rangelands and safeguarding rural population food security and livelihoods, as well as minimizing impact of chemical control operations on human health and the environment.”  

Since Programme started, tangible results have been achieved. “Some of the Programme’s main achievements are regional cooperation and the development of monitoring and analyzing tools, such as the GIS “Caucasus and Central Asia Locust Management System (CCALM),” Ms Chiris said. 

“A number of measures are being implemented aimed at long-term regional cooperation on locusts in CCA, disaster risk reduction, and further strengthening of national capacities,” the FAO expert concluded. 

According to forecasts for 2020, an outbreak of locust breeding was expected on an area of 120 thousand hectares, Ms Dinara Rakhmanova, Deputy Representative of the FAO in Kyrgyzstan, said. “As of June 22, 62,000 hectares were surveyed, pests were found on an area of 47,000 hectares, of which 44,000 hectares were treated,” the FAO executive officer said. 

Since healthcare issues have been given priority in budget allocation this year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kyrgyzstan has turned to FAO for support. FAO responded by providing funds for technical assistance as under circumstances and for strengthening national capacities, including for monitoring the spread of locusts. 

“This year has created favorable conditions for locust breeding,” – said in his turn Mr Alexander Kekeshkeev, Head of the Rosselkhozcentre branch in the Republic of Kalmykia. “A high-alert mode has been introduced in the Republic. The government of Kalmykia annually allocates funds in the amount of 12-15 million rubles aimed at pest control.” 

“In Dagestan, in 2019, locust pests settled down on 87,700 hectares. In 2020, on more than 100,000 hectares,” Ms Zhanna Kazanbieva, Acting Head of the Rosselkhozcentre branch in the Republic of Dagestan, informed. “Various means and special equipment are used to control locusts: GARD aerosol generators, FOG sprayers, small aircraft, knapsack sprayers. With the help of aviation in Dagestan in 2020, more than 30,000 hectares were treated, and with the help of ground equipment, almost 60,000,” Ms Kazanbieva said. 

Interagency cooperation played an important role. The Dagestan Rosselkhozcentre branch in 2020, well in advance mobilized forces and funds, and in cooperation with the regional Ministry of Agriculture, municipal administrations and farms themselves, and thus prevented a surge in the spread of locusts. 

“Since 2012, the main pest in our region is the Moroccan locust. Although before that, it occupied the second or the third places,” Mr Andrey Oleynikov, Acting Head of the Rosselkhozcentre branch in the Stavropol Territory, said. 

“Our specialists are continuously working on this problem: the Stavropol Territory plans to treat approximately 150,000 hectares. The main areas affected are the areas that border Kalmykia and Dagestan. To date, 20 districts have already been treated for locust pests,” Andrey Oleynikov detailed. At the same time, there is a joint Coordination center for locust pests in the Southern Federal District and the Northern Federal District, and once a week, they exchange detailed information. 

*   *   *   

In total, 136 specialized experts and representatives of government agencies from Russia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and other countries, as well as FAO attended the webinar. Most of the three-hour meeting was held in the form of live exchange of views and opinions between specialists.

*   *   *    

You are welcome to view the webinar:


More information about locust pests on the FAO website: