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Locus menace to affect food security in the Horn of Africa
Africa

Locus menace to affect food security in the Horn of Africa

The worst desert locust outbreak in decades is underway in the Greater Horn of Africa, where tens of thousands of hectares of cropland and pasture have been damaged in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia with potentially severe consequences for agriculture-based livelihoods in contexts where food security is already fragile. Highly mobile and capable of stripping an area’s vegetation, swarming locusts can cause large-scale agricultural and environmental damage. Even a very small locust swarm can eat the same amount of food in one day as about 35 000 people. This can be especially devastating in countries facing food security crises, where every gram of food produced counts towards alleviating hunger. In addition to the 11.9 million people already experiencing severe acute food insecurity in the three countries, the desert locust crisis poses a potential threat to the food security of another 20.1 million people (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification [IPC] Phase 2). Intensive ground and aerial control operations are urgently needed (in addition to diligent surveillance) in order to detect and reduce locust populations, prevent more swarms from forming and avoid the spread to even more vulnerable areas, such as South Sudan. If locust swarms continue unhindered, this will have serious implications on crop production in the upcoming main season across the entire region. Efforts must also be made to protect the livelihoods of farmers and livestock holders – ensuring they have the inputs they need to restart production and have access to much-needed cash to meet their immediate food needs. It is also critical to ensure that if damage is done to crops and pastures, anticipatory actions can be undertaken to safeguard livelihoods and promote early recovery at the scale needed. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) urgently requires USD 70 million to support rapid control actions and take measures to prevent a deterioration in the food security situation and protect livelihoods. Crisis overview Current situation Despite control efforts, a serious and widespread desert locust outbreak is threatening crops and pasture across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. According to experts in the region, this is the worst outbreak in over 25 years in Ethiopia and Somalia and the worst observed in over 70 years in Kenya. The situation has rapidly deteriorated in January as weather conditions have been unusually conducive to the spread of the pest. After Cyclone Pawan made landfall in early December 2019, flooding across the Horn of Africa created favourable breeding conditions for desert locust. These conditions will allow breeding until June 2020 and could lead to 500 times more locusts, with the formation of large numbers of swarms. The desert locust is considered the most destructive migratory pest in the world as it is highly mobile and feeds on large quantities of any kind of green vegetation, including crops, pasture and fodder. A typical swarm can be made up of 150 million locusts per square kilometer and is carried on the wind, up to 150 km in one day. Even a very small, 1 km2 locust swarm can eat the same amount of food in one day as about 35 000 people. A single large swarm in Kenya was recorded with an area of 60 km by 40 km; a swarm of that size can consume the equivalent amount of kilocalories in one day as millions of people. This can be especially devastating in areas where food security is poor and, where every gram of food produced counts towards minimizing gaps in a family’s food consumption. The desert locust represents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the region and has the potential to become a regional plague that could lead to further suffering, displacement and potential conflict. Unless sustained measures are taken to control the invasions in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, the pest will spread to other East African countries, in particular South Sudan and Uganda. Ethiopia