Desert locusts may not come, but precautions are necessary

15Jan 2021
The Guardian
Desert locusts may not come, but precautions are necessary

UNITED Nations updates show that swarms of locusts already sighted in the southwestern parts of Kenya might strike Tanzania, a situation that has occurred several times in the past but with their grazing grounds usually remaining northwards.

Last year, and even the year before, the “fortunate” regions survived by a whisker, and we just shouldn’t – and cannot – rely on luck.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned that swarms of locusts are spreading from northern Kenya and were close to Taita-Taveta County – which is adjacent to Kilimanjaro and Tanga regions.

By that kind of movement, the hugely destructive insects could reach Tanzania anytime this month. That is essentially what the latest UN update says – all this quite rapidly after swarms were sighted in Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Eritrea.

The UN agency has called on countries in the region to put up maximum efforts in conducting survey and control operations to reduce locust migration and breeding.

The breeding and spreading of the insects from the Horn of Africa is usually unhinged and hardly ever placed under control.

Remedial work is expected in the neighbouring zone, partly because the breeding grounds don’t have the relevant administrative and civic infrastructure to which other agencies could lend a hand.

The perennial crisis in the zone is amplified in its impact by the locust swarms, which puts food security in peril for wider sections of the zone.

The UN agency points with precision where the swarms started and continue to breed – noting that, in Somalia, mature swarms are present in the northwest and breeding is in progress on the coast where hopper bands have formed.

“Breeding also continues in the northeast where numerous hopper bands are concentrated between Iskushuban and Bosaso,” the agency observes, while falling short of stating if any control and mitigation work had already started in the area. There are alerts and there is monitoring, period.

What was again noticeable was that the swarms aren’t yet in Taita-Taveta County, but by the time anyone can read what the UN is saying the situation could have changed.

It all depends on the path of the swarms, and there is a slight complication, when the agency says that breeding may also be under way in other areas on the northern plateau – in Somalia – which has experienced heavy rains, thanks to Cyclone Gati.

With rainwaters softening the ground, swarms of immature locusts continue to move southwards in the central and southern regions towards Kenya.

In that case, eastern Ethiopia and central Somalia are the core breeding zones, with swarms spreading into Ethiopia’s southern region and into Kenya’s northern and coastal counties.

There is a fair chance that the swarms remain in our northern neighbour (Kenya) and further north without reaching our side of the border, as previously witnessed.

It is unclear if there are ecological reasons for this natural defence line against invasions by the insects, but we surely need to be doubly vigilant.

We need to take precautions, as Tanzania is a bit southward from the Equator, warmer than northeastern Kenya. It may make a lot of positive difference in our favour.

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