New desert locust swarms predicted
The desert locust infestation in Somalia, like in several Horn of Africa countries, remains alarming. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the locusts are continuing to breed in the northeast of Somalia and new swarms are expected to form in coming weeks as the hoppers become immature adults, start flying and becoming voracious. In northeast Somalia, several generations of hopper bands are already present and will be laying eggs soon as the Gu’ (April-June) rains approach.
While the locust upsurge is rapidly developing, its current impact on food security has been limited and localised so far. In the case of agricultural areas, most crops had already been harvested or were in later stages of maturity when the locust swarms passed through, thereby limiting losses. In pastoral areas, rangeland resources were well above average following abundant October–December seasonal rains, which has helped to offset the effects of locust damages thus far by replenishing pasture.
Average to above average rains expected in April to June
Rainfall forecasts for the Gu’ 2020 period indicate a strong possibility of average to above-average precipitation in most parts of Somalia. These Gu’ rains are expected to maintain rangelands and support planting activities. However, they could enable a new wave of breeding and further spread of the locust pests. Pasture losses are expected in areas where swarms land, although rainfall in coming months is likely to partially continue offsetting the impact. Nonetheless, if the desert locusts continue to multiply, this offsetting effect will be drastically reduced.
Analysis by FAO shows that the most significant food security impact will be felt by households in areas where swarms pass through and cause damage, especially those that are reliant on cropping activities and are already facing acute food insecurity (IPC Phase 2+) due to existing high vulnerability and the effects of expected crop losses. On 27 February, FAO and the Somali Government released the “Desert Locust Crisis - Somalia Action Plan” which requires US$32.2 million to implement through July 2020.
Regional response to locust infestation
FAO has adopted a regional response plan to the locust infestation and urgently needs $138 million to respond in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania. Like Somalia, these seven countries have experienced widespread infestation. FAO urgently needs this money to help governments to scale up control operations to mitigate the devastating impact of the pests as soon as possible.
The required funding will ensure that activities to control the locusts can take place before new swarms emerge and breed. It will also provide help for people whose crops or pastures are already affected, to protect their families and their livelihoods. As of 25 February, FAO had received commitments totalling $33 million. WFP has estimated the cost of responding to the impact of locusts on food security alone to be at least 15 times higher than the cost of preventing the spread now.
The desert locust is considered the world’s most dangerous migratory pest. A swarm of one square kilometer can consume the equivalent of crops that could feed 35,000 people for a year. The current infestation in Somalia is the worst in 25 years. On 2 February, the Somalia Government declared a national emergency over the locust infestation.