East African nations have been tackling locust swarms since late 2019 © Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images
East African nations have been tackling locust swarms since late 2019 © Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

East Africa faces fresh locust swarm threat

16 April 2020

Governments in East Africa are being forced to choose between imposing lockdowns to prevent the spread of coronavirus and the need to fight a fresh swarm of locusts, the UN has warned. 

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said at the moment repelling locusts was a clear national priority for governments in the affected countries. 

But it added lockdowns in other countries were affecting the supply of pesticides and motorised sprayers, which are vital in the fight against the swarms.

“There is no significant slowdown because all the affected countries working with FAO consider desert locusts a national priority”, said Cyril Ferrand, FAO’s resilience team leader for East Africa. 

“While lockdowns are becoming reality, people engaged in the fight against the [locust] upsurge are still allowed to conduct surveillance and air and ground control operations.”

The FAO feared widespread rainfall in March will cause a dramatic increase in locust numbers and could end up creating new swarms up to 20 times the size of the February infestations.

Officials worried new swarms will move into South Sudan and Uganda, which is already dealing with the arrival of two swarms from neighbouring Kenya. Locusts are also impacting Ethiopia and Somalia.

A single swarm can contain 10,000m locusts and consume 160,000 tonnes of food a day.

Earlier this year, Uganda predicted the swarms could cost it $218.3m in lost revenue from crops.

“Our absolute priority is to prevent a breakdown in pesticide stocks in each country”, added Ferrand. 

“That would be dramatic for rural populations whose livelihoods and food security depend on the success of our control campaign.” 

The effects of coronavirus on East Africa have been relatively limited compared to its effects on countries in Europe and Asia so far. Kenya’s Health Ministry reported 216 cases on Tuesday 14 April and Somalia reported 60.

However, there are fears the disease could cause widespread loss of life and economic destruction in the areas it progresses.

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