Kampala, Uganda – Farmers in Uganda prepare for a new desert locust attack after two herds entered the country from neighboring Kenya last week, threatening to destroy crops and intensify famine amid struggles to contain coronavirus pandemic.
Countries in East Africa fight against the worst locust outbreak in decades, with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warning on Wednesday that the situation remained “very worrisome” because hopper bands and increasing numbers of new herds had formed in some parts of the region.
“This is an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods because it coincides with the beginning of the long rains and growing season,” he said on Wednesday.
In Uganda, the latest insect invasion came through the Amudat district on the eastern border on April 3, officials said.
Unlike a group of adult, less destructive insects that crossed into the country in February, newcomers consist of insects at a “growth stage” that has “the potential to destroy vegetation wherever they go,” said Vincent Ssempijja, Uganda’s agriculture minister.
“Young nymphs and grasshoppers have a high affinity for food. This can pose a danger to food security and livelihoods,” he added.
Agnes Kirabo, executive director Food Rights Alliance, said “tThe new group exodus is more destructive and is a big threat “to food security.
“Farmers have no other way to make a living except their agriculture,” he added. “For farmers, this is not loss of food but loss of life. This is very tragic and a major threat to the agricultural sector and food system that is already less resilient.”
The semi-nomadic farming and herding community in the east and northeast semi-arid regions of Karamoja, often described as Uganda’s poorest and most marginalized region is at risk, with the crisis exacerbated by the threat of a coronavirus pandemic.
“At Karamojong, we have entered the cultivation season. Grasshopper nymphs have appeared now to conduct their destruction business,” said Loupa Pius, project officer at the Dynamic Agropastoralist Development Organization in Karamoja.
“The second wave of grasshoppers will be another high-level disaster because crops planted in Karamoja are in danger,” he added, calling on the government to provide food supplies for vulnerable populations in the region amid a pandemic.
The fight against damaging pests has been complicated by a flight ban imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19, a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by a new coronavirus.
These restrictions have significantly delayed the delivery of pesticides in countries throughout the region.
Ssempijja said, Uganda has mobilized more than 2,000 military forces to carry out control operations but there are no specific pesticides “Inhibiting the use of airplanes is far more efficient than ground operations”.
“Because COVID-19 control measures are in force in this country now, there is a framework staff that supports field control activities,” he added.
Despite the new wave of grasshoppers, the government is urging farmers began planting to ensure food safety.
“Agricultural communities in affected communities are encouraged to take advantage of the rain and plant crops recently to prevent a possible food crisis,” Ssempijja said.
However, Loupa said: “People should be advised to stop planting crops to observe the direction and level of desert grasshopper outbreaks.”
“Otherwise, if this is not done, the usual food insecurity will afflict the region, including capable people who can usually easily find their own food without assistance. This time, they tend to request it because the situation has been affected by COVID-19. “
The United Nations has warned that locust swarms could increase 500 times in June, posing a major threat to millions of people in already vulnerable regions.
In May, the eggs will hatch into ribbon hoppers that will form new herds in late June and July, which coincides with the start of the harvest, according to the FAO.
“Soon this will not be a problem of disaster and emergence but a matter of systemic and institutional planning,” Kirabo said.
“A semi-permanent program for grasshoppers needs to be developed,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ssempijja said there was “an urgent need to involve the Kenyan government about the possibility of a joint operation to spray soil to ensure that the newly hatched carriages did not reach maturity and swarm over Uganda.”