The authorities in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda are struggling to control the spreading desert locust infestation. Recent reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) suggest that the situation there remains “extremely alarming”. Over the weekend, the Democratic Republic of Congo was the latest to report an infestation of the desert locust, which seem to have crossed over from Uganda with heavy winds.

This is a threat to food security as these locusts are damaging field crops and grazing fields. The FAO estimates that the locusts have spread over nearly half a million hectares across the aforementioned countries. What’s more, about 11.9 million people, which heavily rely on agriculture, are already experiencing acute food insecurity in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. The locusts will exacerbate this already bad situation.

To zoom into Kenya, the country already has a fragile food system. Kenya experienced drought in 2019 which saw its staple maize harvest falling 15% y/y to 3.4 million tonnes, which is well below the annual maize consumption of 4.7 million tonnes. This saw the country needing maize imports of 1.3 million tonnes in a marketing year that ends in April 2020 in order to meet its annual maize requirements.

I had hoped that 2020 could be a recovery year and Kenya’s maize import needs could be reduced. The spreading desert locust, however, threatens to keep the country a basket case; along with Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda which currently have millions of people in acute food insecurity.

Overall, the spread of these locusts is evidence that the local authorities are struggling to control them. This then calls for international interventions – a view the FAO has also expressed here. This is indeed a locust crisis.


Follow me on Twitter (@WandileSihlobo). E-mail: wandile@agbiz.co.za

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