Locusts destroy 500,000 acres of crops in Ethiopia, millions of people need food aid

n Amhara regional state, some farms have registered nearly 100 percent loss of teff, a staple crop in Ethiopia.. Image courtesy FAO

One million people are in need of emergency food assistance in Ethiopia after the worst desert locust outbreak in decades. Nearly 200,000 hectares of cropland were damaged by the insects, leading to the loss of over 356,000 tons of grain including sorghum, maize and wheat, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization said Monday. An additional 1.3 million hectares of pasture have been affected, reducing the area by as much as 61% in the Somali region.

The battle against the locust invasion has been exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis. Following ample rain in March, new swarms of the pest are forming and threaten not only Ethiopia, but Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia, the UN agency said.

Some 75 percent of Ethiopians requiring emergency food assistance live in the country’s Somali and Oromia regions. FAO Ethiopia representative Fatouma Seid said farmer and pastoralists needed help in the form of agricultural inputs and cash transfers to get them through the emergency, which was being worsened by the coronavirus pandemic. Seid said: ‘It is critical to protect the livelihoods of the affected population, especially now that the situation is compounded by the Covid-19 crisis.’

The pandemic is also having a crippling economic effect in many countries, destroying jobs, dislocating trade systems and crimping supply lines through lockdowns and movement restrictions. The locust situation, meanwhile, is likely to get even worse. Last week, the FAO warned a ‘massive increase’ in locusts across the region would pose ‘an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods’ by threatening the upcoming planting and harvest seasons.