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UN's FAO warns more locust swarms forming in East Africa

By Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-06-29 21:30

The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations on Saturday warned that during the past week, an increased number of immature swarms were reported in eastern Ethiopia and northern Kenya and could spread westwards across the northern Sahel of West Africa.

"An increased number of immature swarms have been reported in eastern Ethiopia between El Kere and Jijiga, most likely arising from local breeding as hopper bands persist in many areas. Swarms are also present in the northern Rift Valley and an increasing number of hopper bands have been found in the highlands of Amhara and Tigray," the FAO said in the statement.

The FAO added that in Kenya, more swarms continued to form and were seen flying in the northwest parts of the country.

"Although control operations in Kenya continue, a general northerly movement of swarms will occur in three countries. Some of the swarms in northwest Kenya are expected to transit through South Sudan to reach the summer breeding areas of Sudan where some rains have already fallen," the FAO said.

"If these rains are not enough, there is a risk that swarms could continue to eastern Chad and spread westwards across the northern Sahel of West Africa. Swarms that accumulate in northern Somalia are likely to migrate across the Indian Ocean to the summer breeding areas along the Indo-Pakistan border."

Following the announcement, Kenya's Ministry of Agriculture has warned that desert locusts remain a threat in three of its counties. While addressing the press on Saturday, Hamadi Boga, Kenya's principal secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation, observed that while the situation remains precarious, another four counties were already counting their losses.

"Locusts have affected crops and plants in Tharaka Nithi, Makueni, Embu and Meru counties. The Red Cross is assessing the damage to determine who has been affected. We have also observed that the locusts remain a major threat to the counties of Turkana, Marsabit and Samburu in the coming weeks." Boga said.

According to Cyril Ferrand, head of the FAO's resilience team in East Africa, if resources to tackle the locusts are not released in time, the harvests in July will likely fail completely ,and that would mean a food disaster for over 20 million people living in the region.

"The FAO has issued three potential scenarios for the coming period, from July to December 2020. We are currently measuring the damage of the desert grasshoppers' passage, but we will only be able to say with certainty what damage will occur after a few weeks," Ferrand said.

Ferrand added that it is important to note that crop development doesn't depend on just one factor and the desert grasshoppers, the coronavirus pandemic and floods across the region have all had a major influence on agricultural production.

The FAO has now placed South Sudan, Ethiopia, Sudan, Pakistan and India on high alert during the next four weeks and said West Africa should take precautionary measures and preparatory steps to battle the locusts.

"We will provide technical support to affected countries through partnerships. We also need to prepare for the next generation of desert grasshoppers. Collaboration is therefore essential," Ferrand said.

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