Russia donates Ksh300M in aid for desert locust control in Kenya. Picture: Supplied FAO;
Russia donates Ksh300M in aid for desert locust control in Kenya. Picture: Supplied FAO;

Locust swarms due in June raise risk of food crisis

By Brian Parkin Time of article published May 13, 2020

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INTERNATIONAL - The United Nations agency leading the fight against a desert-locust upsurge in East Africa will lodge a new appeal for funding next week, warning the plague could still cause a food crisis.

The Food and Agricultural Organization plans to ask its partners for about $110 million on May 20, according to the agency’s Nairobi-based Resilience Team Leader Cyril Ferrand. 

Funding needs may increase to $450 million as the FAO prepares to fight swarms seen moving to the Sahel region and Pakistan, according to Ferrand. The agency has so far received an estimated $130 million in payments and pledges.

East African nations from Ethiopia to Kenya, Somalia and Uganda have suffered the worst locust outbreak in at least two decades. A second wave of the locust swarms, from June when farmers in the region prepare to harvest their crops, puts more people at the risk of losing their livelihoods and worsening food insecurity, the FAO said in a report published on Monday.

“We may need over two years to tame this enemy,” Ferrand said. “We’re in the middle of the fight.”

The new fund-raising round comes as the FAO reports gains in combating the outbreak in East Africa and Yemen despite the coronavirus fallout that’s hampered the delivery of supplies. Some 720,000 tons of cereal, enough to feed 5 million people, have been saved by efforts against the pests so far, the FAO said in the report.

Unusual weather patterns, which boosted vegetation over parts of the Horn of Africa and the Arab peninsula from last year, saw the pests fly southwards, creating an unprecedented threat to food security. The locusts, which move in swarms each covering about a square kilometer, could increase 20 times during the current rainy season, according to the FAO report.

Drier weather after the rainy season may push swarms west and north into the Sahel region. “It’s a game now of figuring where the weather will take the swarms, ” said Ferrand.

Germany pledged 20 million euros ($21.6 million) and is considering an additional 15 million euros to help end the crisis. German lawmakers said the FAO partners were slow in anticipating the scale of the locusts threat, according to communication from the Berlin-based federal parliament last week.

“People are threatened with famine,” Economic Cooperation and Development Minister Gerd Mueller said in a May 10 German TV interview. “The plague and the coronavirus crisis must not lead to hunger, distress, displacement and ultimately uncontrollable immigration."


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