Locust invasion: We must be alert

Monday January 27 2020
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Invading locusts spring into flight from ground vegetation as young girls in traditional Samburu-wear run past to their cattle at Larisoro village near Archers Post, on January 21, 2020. (Photo by TONY KARUMBA / AFP)

The East African region is currently grappling with a locust invasion. Media reports indicate that billions of locusts are swarming over Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. This is said to be the biggest invasion in decades, with experts warning that it is likely to have catastrophic impact on a region already affected by extreme weather conditions such as drought and floods. Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan have in recent months experienced devastating floods.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), one locust invasion in Kenya covered an estimated 2,400 square kilometers (930 square miles) and contained up to 200 billion locusts, which feed off plants and vegetation. FAO says the insect infestation in Ethiopia and Somalia is the biggest registered in 25 years. For Kenya, it is the largest in 70 years!
This locust invasion is of great concern and has caused panic in eastern Africa given the effects it is likely to have on food security and vegetation for livestock. Worse still, FAO warns that the ravenous insects could “reproduce rapidly and, if left unchecked, their current numbers could grow 500 times by June’’, spreading to Uganda.
As concerns grow that the invasion could threaten a food crisis in the Horn of Africa if the situation is not contained fast, FAO says under a worst-case scenario, the invasion could become a plague.
And it is evident that affected countries have not adequately prepared for such magnitude of invasion. In some cases, people resorted to shooting in the air, waving sticks, banging cans and running around in attempts to chase the locusts away.
The best option for containing the locusts, according FAO, is spraying insecticide from aircraft. As the locusts advance towards Uganda, our Agriculture ministry must ensure an emergency action plan is ready to control possible spread across the country.
The New Vision last week reported that Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda directed the Ministry of Agriculture to submit to Finance ministry a comprehensive list of requirements for preventing the invasion, including facilities for aerial spraying. The Agriculture ministry has requested Shs5 billion to prepare for possible locust invasion. These measures are necessary and urgent.
Given the magnitude of the current locust invasion, Uganda must pick lessons from affected countries and put in place the best possible control plan. This should include sensitisation of the public on what to expect, how to respond, and what government is doing to contain the situation.