BY KESETE GHEBREHIWET | SHABAIT
Eritrea has taken intensive surveillance and control measures to deal with the desert locust threat in winter breeding areas and invasion from neighboring countries. Commendable activities have so far been made to deter risks that could pose a threat to crop and grazing land and other vegetation across the country.
Eastern Africa has been threatened with desert locust as the climatic conditions in the region are favorable for the breeding of desert locust. The current situation of desert locusts in South Sudan, Eastern Ethiopia, Northern Somalia, Northwestern Kenya, and Northeastern Uganda makes Eritrea susceptible to locust invasion. To mitigate the risk of possible locust invasion, Eritrea has redoubled its efforts by taking necessary measures and preparedness.
Concerted efforts by the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA), regional administration offices, and members of the Defense Forces have made a contribution in controlling the locust infestation that may occur in Eritrea. Since the risk of invasion is at its peak because of the upcoming rainy season, the Government continues to intensify mitigation activities through necessary preparedness.
The Government of Eritrea is reinforcing the desert locust management system with energized participation of the Eritrean Defense forces and Regional government bodies with the MoA taking the technical lead. Based on this new arrangement, more than 10 new desert locust stations have been established in Gash-Barka and Southern regions in addition to permanent base stations in the Northern Red Sea region.
The current mitigation measures by the MoA include stock management of pesticides and sprayers, maintenance of motorized and manual backpack-sprayers as well as vehicle-mounted sprayers, and awareness-raising campaigns targeting the general public and members of the Eritrean Defense Forces. So far, around 500 back-pack motorized and manual sprayers have been repaired in different regions and the work is still ongoing.
What is more, the MoA has been providing training on the maintenance of sprayers, biology, and control of locusts as well as safety precautions during control operations to members of the defense forces and representatives of farmers in the Gash-Barka, Anseba, Southern and Central regions.
As part of its ongoing efforts to increase public awareness about the threat of desert locust, the MoA is distributing brochures, flyers, posters, caps, T-shirts, and vehicle stickers written in different languages as well as various sensitization programs through media outlets.
Mr. Tedros Sium, Head of Migratory Pests Control Unit at the MoA, said that the desert locust situation in the winter breeding areas of Eritrea has been calm for the past two months because of the control measures taken to mitigate a possible threat. But the risk of invasion is still high due to the situation in most East-African Countries.
There are various reasons that make desert locust invasion alarming. The spread of such swarms in Eastern Africa is highly worrisome. The presence of mature swarms that moved into some of the neighboring countries urges Eritrea to focus mainly on preparedness in a bid to encounter and tackle the potential threat.
A recent update on the situation of desert locust published on 13 May on Desert Locust Watch’s website states: “The current situation remains extremely alarming in East Africa where it is an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods since it coincides with the current growing season. New swarms from current breeding will form from mid-June onwards, coinciding with the start of the harvest.”
Also, according to a report by Desert Locust Watch, the situation in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Oman is alarming as immature adult groups and a few hoper groups still persist in the region.
What makes the prevalence of desert locust in the Eastern African countries and some Gulf countries worrisome is its potential to spread to a large area, posing a threat to food security.
The agricultural and environmental threats that make the prevalence and potential migration of swarms of desert locusts extremely alarming are their ability to travel depending on wind speed that ranges from 100- 200 km/h, their higher breading capability(laying one up to three egg pods, each pod containing 60- 80 eggs), their ability to devour plenty at a given time (a swarm of 100 km2 consumes about 10,000 tons), their prevalence rate (with around 50 million locusts in one Km2), and so many other factors.
To a great extent, the wind determines the direction of a swarm’s movement. The Desert Locust Watch report predicts that the calm situation in some countries could drastically change in the coming weeks based on rainfall, wind, and the locust situation in Arabia and East Africa.
The current situation and forecast are alarming as locust infestations are expected to extend to other areas in the Horn of Africa and southwest Asia.
Widespread rains fell in East Africa for the second consecutive month in April. Although control operations are reducing locust populations, another generation of breeding will cause locust numbers to increase further as new hopper bands and swarms form in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia during June. Swarms are expected to move further north with a risk that a few swarms may reach Eritrea and Sudan in mid-June, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). It is for this reason that all concerned Government bodies are redoubling their efforts and preparedness.
An intensified control operation in the areas where the threat is of high magnitude is the only solution to the dire consequence the desert locust could pose particularly in the East African countries. Aware of the alarming threat, the MoA has been providing on-the-job training to staff members besides taking other necessary measures of preparedness, including its ongoing awareness-raising campaigns aimed at the public.
In Eritrea, desert locust mostly occurs in the Northern and Southern Red Sea regions as well as western lowlands, particularly during favorable breeding conditions. An infestation of desert locust occurred in the areas extending from Qurora in the Northern Red Sea region to Ara’eta sub-zone in the Southern Red Sea region, causing insignificant damage.
In the control operations, Eritrea has deployed vehicle-mounted, manual, and motorized sprayers. The Government, communities, and members of the Defense Forces have made unremitting efforts to contain the spread of desert locusts.