Fight against desert locusts continues in East Africa amid COVID19 crisis

File photo: Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020, a group of desert locusts mate on the ground in Nasuulu Conservancy, northern Kenya. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis).
Locusts are seen as they copulate in the region of Kyuso, Kenya, February 18, 2020. The swarms, first sighted in December, have already destroyed tens of thousands of acres of farmland in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia

Sustained efforts to contain East Africa’s worst invasion of desert locusts in decades are forging ahead, despite limits on the flow of personnel and equipment stemming from the global COVID-19 pandemic, the UN food agency said Friday.

The locust infestation remains alarming, particularly in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia where it poses an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods for millions, noted the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Restrictions imposed by many countries to contain the coronavirus outbreak are creating challenges, but FAO said is it working with Governments, farmers and agricultural producers to overcome hurdles.

“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,” he said.

Widespread rainfall in March is expected to generate a dramatic increase in locust numbers in the coming months, with new swarms due to move from Kenya into South Sudan and Uganda.

The situation is also worrying in Iran and Yemen where a new generation of locusts is emerging, the Rome-based agency said.

So far, more than 240,000 hectares across 10 countries have been treated with chemical pesticides or biopesticides, and 750 people have been trained to carry out ground locust control operations.