Worst desert locust outbreak in 25 years threatens food security across East Africa – FAO

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The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Thursday warned that the worst desert locust outbreak in decades has threatened the food security of Ethiopia and its neighboring East African countries.

“The worst desert locust outbreak in 25 years has caused significant pasture losses across East Africa, mainly in agro-pastoral areas of eastern Ethiopia, central Somalia and northern Kenya,” the FAO said in its desert locust situation update issued on Thursday, as it also warned Horn of Africa countries over the possibility of sustained desert locust reproduction during the coming five months period.

“As sustained locust reproduction is expected until June 2020, the outbreak has a high probability to spread to southern Ethiopia, southern Somalia, northeastern Uganda and South Sudan,” the FAO said.

Noting the urgent need for an “immediate up scaling of aerial control measures” so as to mitigate crop and pasture losses and to avoid a sharp deterioration of the food security situation, it also called “the worst desert locust outbreak in 25 years is destroying crops and pasture across East Africa.”

According to the FAO, amid the ongoing desert locust outbreak across the region, the areas of major concern are Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, even though the locusts are also present on the Red Sea coast in the Sudan and Eritrea.

It also noted that the current desert locust outbreak, which resulted from the combination of uncontrolled reproduction in the Arabian Peninsula and unusual weather and climate conditions in East Africa, has resulted in substantial pasture losses in agro-pastoral areas of eastern Ethiopia and central Somalia.

While calling for doubling the current aerial control measures, the FAO also stressed that the control operations carried out so far “have been largely inadequate to contain the outbreak, which in late 2019 has spread to Kenya.”

According to the FAO, large swarms, up to 60-km long and 40-km wide, have “invaded all northern counties and some central areas of Kenya in less than a month, bringing damage to agro-pastoral livelihoods, depriving livestock of pasture.”

Noting that the outbreak is expected to continue until June 2020 due to the continuation of favorable ecological conditions for locust reproduction, it also warned that the swarms are expected to invade southern Ethiopia and perhaps northeastern Uganda and southeastern South Sudan in the coming months.

The current desert locust outbreak is also said to worsen the impacts of recurrent climatic shocks and conflicts that have resulted in high-level food insecurity in 2019 in the Horn of Africa, with more than 22 million people estimated to be severely food insecure in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan, according to the FAO.

“The damages caused by the desert locusts in late 2019 and the livelihood losses likely to occur in 2020 may lead to a sharp deterioration of the food security situation, if adequate measures are not taken,” the FAO has warned.

It also stressed that a substantial scaling up of ground and aerial spraying, supported by increased surveillance for early detection and monitoring, is “urgently required.”

Last week, the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture had disclosed that the ongoing desert locust invasion has affected over 65,000 hectares of land across different parts of Ethiopia during the past few months.

The Ethiopian government had also recently called for concerted regional efforts to avert desert locust-induced food security threat in Ethiopia and beyond across the Horn of Africa region.

The desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), which is considered as the most dangerous of the nearly one dozen species of locusts, is a major food security peril in desert areas across 20 countries, stretching from west Africa all the way to India, covering nearly 16 million square kilometers, according to the UN. Enditem

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