Ethiopia: Invading locusts threatening vast areas

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An invading swarm of desert locusts has hit vast areas of Ethiopia, threatening the country’s already overstretched food resources. In a report released this week by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the North Shewa zone in the Amhara Regional State and Alamata woreda in Southern Tigray Regional State have been hit by the invading insects.

According to OCHA estimates, the maturing swarm in North Shewa alone covers over 100 hectares. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MoARD) of the country are preparing towards an extensive aerial spraying programme.

Mitiku Kassa, head the ministry’s Disaster Risk Management and Food Security Sector (DRMFSS), has announced that his team is currently clearing two airports at the Kombolcha and Shewa Robit areas for the spraying and ground control measures.

From Somalia

The presence of the locusts, which are believed to have first migrated from northwestern Somalia, was reported in the month of April and initially covered six regions including, Somali, Afar, Harari, Oromia, Amhara, Tigray and the Dire Dawa.

Ethiopia reacted almost immediately by deploying an aircraft in Dire Dawa to spray the infested areas, bringing the spread of the locusts under control. However, there were fears that some swarms had escaped control, broken into smaller groups and spread into the South Gonder and North Shewa areas.

Kassahun Yitaferu, an entomologist at the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development earlier confirmed that the locusts had matured in northern Somaliland before moving into the Somali region of Ethiopia (eastern Ethiopia).

Northwestern Somalia, a locust prone area, lacks the essential systems for locust survey and control, thus allowing locust infestation to spread undetected. According to Kassahun, “Those locusts which exist in solitary form in that part of the Horn of Africa breed without restraint when environmental conditions become favourable.”

Harvest season at risk

Locusts breed in three out of four seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer. According to Mitiku Kassa, unless the locusts are fully controlled in the soonest possible time it could exacerbate the current food security situation. North Gonder and Western Tigray receive summer rains from July to September. It is feared that a locust spread in these areas during the summer season, could affect crop production, especially sesame.

The country is currently burdened with a 176,000mt shortfall in food aid. It is feared that the figure could worsen and rise to 390,000mt. An estimated number of 5.3 million Ethiopians are reported to be facing starvation.

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