Locust Threat Returns to Parts of Africa

3/3/2013 12:04:32 PM

In parts of Africa, the weather over the next few weeks could have significant impacts with nations preparing to cope with two separate locust outbreaks.

A "potentially dangerous" situation is developing in Sudan and Egypt according to the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization. Within the last week, swarms of desert locusts have taken flight into the cropping areas of northern Sudan from the Red Sea, threatening food security and agricultural production. If weather conditions are particularly dry in southeast Egypt and northern Sudan over the coming weeks, more swarms could invade the interior areas of both nations and may even cross the Red Sea into Saudi Arabia.

Control operations are underway, and the FAO is urging affected nations to take "all efforts" to protect winter crops. In 2004, a locust invasion of Egypt decimated livelihoods and damaged 38% of the nation's agricultural sector.

To the south, the island nation of Madagascar is also facing a potential locust emergency as funding for control operations has been disrupted. As Alexandre Huynh of the FAO told IRIN news, "If nothing is done this year, there is a risk that almost the whole country, except for the extreme north and the eastern coast, will be invaded by locusts."

This week Madagascar suffered torrential rainfall and serious flooding from the impact of Tropical Cyclone Haruna, which impacted that nation's southwest coast. While the impact of Haruna is still being assessed, over 12,000 hectares of rice fields are estimated to be destroyed. The locust threat will be an unwelcome variable for any long term recovery and food security operations.

All of Madagascar is currently under a State of Emergency due to the locust crisis. There are some fears that the outbreak may be on par with a similar event in 1997. As local farmer Jean-Babtiste Manjarisoa told IRIN, during the last crisis, the locusts "ate everything that was green. There was nothing left to eat. Both the people and the zebus [Madagascar's humped cattle] were out of food,...So we ate cactus fruits, fed the cactus leaves to the animals, and slowly sold our chickens, our cooking pots and, finally, half of our cattle to survive."

Locusts have been a concern throughout Africa over the last year. An outbreak from uncontrolled areas of Libya affected Algeria and parts of the Sahel in mid-2012, and threatened to exacerbate a regional food crisis. Fortunately, locusts conditions in the Sahel have generally improved.

According to Bloomberg News, "swarms containing tens of millions of the insects can fly as much as 150 kilometers (93 miles) a day." Locust swarms can form an aerial force that can decimate all vegetation in its path.

[Via FAO, AfricaBrains.net, Daily Herald/Bloomberg News, IRIN, MGA/Relief Analysis Wire. Photo:Michael Geipel]

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