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'The biggest threat': East Africa struggles to fight locust plague

Video Credit: Reuters Studio - Duration: 02:30s - Published
'The biggest threat': East Africa struggles to fight locust plague

'The biggest threat': East Africa struggles to fight locust plague

As swarms of locusts rapidly multiple, a lack of supplies means East African countries are struggling to contain the plague that threatens food security for millions of people.

David Doyle reports.

In northern Kenya, the next generation of locusts has already been born.

But as the plague multiplies and spreads across East Africa and the Horn of Africa, governments - hit by violence or a lack of supplies - are struggling to hold back the tide.

In a region where 19 million people already go hungry, the UN's Food and Agricultural Organization representative to Kenya, Dr Tobias Takavarasha, says it's a disaster that eclipses all others.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANISATION (FAO) REPRESENTATIVE TO KENYA , DR. TOBIAS TAKAVARASHA, SAYING: "It is a big threat, it is the biggest threat.

Much as we say drought is a threat, much as we say that floods can be a threat, but if we are trying to rank them I think they are all threats but the desert locust situation is an unprecedented threat on food security." A single square kilometer swarm can eat as much food in a day as 35,000 people and the FAO warned last month that, left unchecked, the number of locusts in East Africa could explode by 500 times by June.

When eggs hatch, as they have doing recently in Kenya's Archer's Post the young locusts, or hoppers, are earthbound for two weeks and are more vulnerable to spraying.

But this month, Kenya - the region's wealthiest and most stable country - ran out of pesticide for about a week and a half, leaving residents and farmers to watch helplessly as the crops they count on to feed their families were devoured.

(SOUNDBITE) (Swahili) LOCAL RESIDENT, JOSPHAT ELUKUMANI, SAYING: "It's disturbing because we've never seen anything like this, and also when they land on vegetation like this, they eat everything, even the grass, if this continues they will eat all the vegetation." In neighboring Uganda the military has been deployed - hand-spraying trees in the morning before the locusts take flight.

Somalia, where the infestation was first reported in December, can't provide security to exterminators.

Ethiopia needs 500,000 liters of pesticide for the upcoming harvest and planting season but the country's single pesticide factory is struggling to produce its maximum 200,000 liters as foreign exchange shortages have delayed the purchase of chemicals.

(SOUNDBITE) (English) FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANISATION (FAO) REPRESENTATIVE TO KENYA , DR. TOBIAS TAKAVARASHA, SAYING: "The pesticides are available, but the pesticides require financial resources before they can be release." The FAO says containing the plague will cost $138m.

So far donors have pledged $52m.




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