Agriculture minister Japhet Hasunga said yesterday that the country can tackle a locust invasion should the pests that are currently wreaking havoc in neighbouring Kenya cross into the country.
This affirmation has come a few days after swarms of locusts invaded Turkana County, destroying hundreds of hectares of vegetation and crops, worsening the threat of acute hunger in a region that already suffers recurrent droughts.
A team of experts was on standby to ensure that once any invasion takes place it is tackled directly, to prevent many people from food scarcity and loss of pastures, he said.
Although the first priority will be given to border regions likely to be on high risk the response mechanism covers other regions as well, he said.
“Tanzania is a member of the International Red Locust Control Organization but as a country we have prepared enough in the case of such outbreak,” he the minister declared.
“Red locusts are dangerous for development since they can touch off acute hunger. Therefore, as a country, we have taken some measures to protect our people,” he stated.
He appealed to farmers and herders across the country to give information if they see groups of locusts migrating from one place to another.
The available stock of pesticides will be used to tackle any locust invasion while waiting for the UN agency to support the control effort by leased planes, he further noted.
Once a member country faces red locust invasion, FAO takes the responsibility of controlling swarms, using its own planes.
The minister had no direct affirmation on measures to combat pesticide resistance that has reportedly been noticed in the various swarms of locusts invading the north and eastern parts of Kenya from Somalia and Ethiopia.
He said it was first necessary to clear the issue of what pesticides had been used in the neighbouring country, and what problems might have occurred in that regard.
On Tuesday, FAO warned that the locust population in Kenya could multiply 500 times in the next five months if control efforts are not intensified.
The current warm and wet weather is favourable for the crop-devouring pests to reproduce, it stated.
The last time Kenya faced a locust invasion of this magnitude was before 1950, experts noted.
FAO director-general Qu Dongyu said something must be done quickly to prevent one of the worst food crises from enveloping the country.
FAO was seeking 7bn/- to fight the locusts and provide food to people already affected in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, the director stated. Ethiopia and Somalia are experiencing their worst locust invasion in 25 years.
The swarms could invade Uganda, South Sudan and Tanzania, if efforts to deal with the voracious pest are not scaled up across the region, he cautioned.
"Authorities in the region have already jump-started control activities, but in view of the scale and urgency of the threat, additional financial backing from the international donor community is needed so FAO can access the tools and resources required to get the job done," he emphasized.
Desert locusts are considered the most dangerous locust species. Swarms potentially containing hundreds of millions of individual desert locusts can move 150 kilometres a day with devastating effects on rural livelihoods.
FAO said that given the scale of the current swarms, aerial control is the only effective means to reduce the locust numbers.
The UN agency said it is assisting with forecasts, early warning and alerts on the timing, scale and location of invasions and breeding.
Dongyu warned that the response must include efforts to restore people’s livelihoods.
On January 13 an Ethiopian airliner was diverted to Addis Ababa Airport after colliding with a swarm of locust midair.
The plane, Boeing 737-700 registration ET-ALN performing flight ET-363 was flying from Djibouti to Dire Dawa in Ethiopia.
As it was approaching Dire Dawa for landing, the aircraft initially flew through a small number of locusts, on the basis of affirmations by Aero-News, a multi-channel aviation digital hub.
The crew first decided to approach Dire Dawa with caution since the locusts were not enough to prevent them from approaching the airport, the site indicated.