Somalia battles to contain locusts before crop harvesting

Desert locusts
Desert locusts
Image: Njeri Mwangi

Somalia on Sunday declared a locust infestation sweeping the Horn of Africa to be a national emergency, as insects devastated food supplies in one of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable regions.

“The ministry of agriculture ... has declared a national emergency in view of the current desert locust upsurge that poses a major threat to Somalia’s fragile food security situation,” a ministry statement read.

Experts said the locust swarms were the result of extreme weather swings and Somalia’s declaration, the first country in the region to do so, was aimed at boosting national efforts to tackle the hungry insects.

The locusts have led to what the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has termed the worst situation in 25 years in the Horn of Africa.

“Food sources for people and their livestock are at risk,” the agriculture ministry said.

“The desert locust swarms are uncommonly large and consume huge amounts of crops and forage.”

The declaration was made to focus efforts and raise funds, because it was critical to contain the swarms before harvesting of crops in April, the ministry said.

Desert locusts, which cause major crop damage and hunger, are a species of grasshopper that live largely solitary lives, until a combination of conditions promote breeding and lead them to form huge swarms.

“Given the severity of this desert locust outbreak, we must commit our best efforts to protect the food security and livelihoods of Somali people,” agriculture minister Said Hussein Iid.

“If we don’t act now, we risk a severe food crisis that we cannot afford.”

According to the regional Food Security and Nutrition Working Group, East Africa is already experiencing a high degree of food insecurity, with more than 19-million people facing acute hunger.

Swarms formed in eastern Ethiopia and northern Somalia and have moved through the region.

The FAO said the current invasion was  known as an upsurge — when an entire region is affected.

However, if it gets worse and cannot be contained over a year or more it would become what is known as a plague of locusts.

There were six major desert locust plagues in the 1900s, the last of which was from 1987 to 1989.

The last major upsurge took place from 2003 to 2005. — AFP

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