By Yvonne Akinyi

With desert locusts’ invasion threatening food security, African governments and other players have been urged to create conducive policy and regulatory environment to enable access to products, tools and equipment needed to efficiently control desert locusts.

The call to action was made by experts on migratory pests and policy during a virtual meeting convened by African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) to discuss emerging trends and new approaches to effectively manage desert locusts’ invasions and strategies to enhance preparedness.

With East Africa and the Horn of Africa facing the worst desert locust outbreak in years, Dr. Denis Kyetere, the Executive Director of AATF, notes that the invasion is compounding an already bleak food security situation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Ethiopia alone, over 200,000 hectares of cropland have been damaged, resulting in a loss of over 356,000 tons of grain.

The experts observed that the invasion is proving difficult to control because of inaccessible infested regions; inadequate resources and environmental concerns emanating from the use of some of the pesticides.

Dr. Ruth Kahuthia-Gathu, a Senior lecturer, School of Agriculture and Enterprise Development at Kenyatta University, observed the need to strengthen human capacity in the region to improve information collection, analysis and dissemination; expedite research for solutions, developing mobile applications to enhance monitoring and surveillance.

“Engagement with private sector to develop tools and systems that can boost surveillance, monitoring and response is critical in managing the locusts,” she stated.

Dr. Stephen Njoka, the Director of the Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa (DLCO – EA) stated that during the 2014 breeding season, efforts to contain the locusts failed due to lack of adequate resources.

He noted that locust plagues affect the most vulnerable communities in rural areas who depend on subsistence farming for their livelihood. Losses, he said, leads to food crises that often require the intervention of Governments and donors through the provision of relief food.

“Increased collaboration with relevant stakeholders to adopt new technologies for improved data collection, through robust surveillance and monitoring is one of the strategies Governments could employ to combat recurrence of pest invasions,” said Dr. Yeneneh Belayneh, the Senior Technical Advisor for Pests and Pesticides at the USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, Washington DC, speaking on behalf of development partners.

A Senior Scientist in-charge of Invasive Species at the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), Dr. Ivan Rwomushana, called for use of alternative methods such as biological control for controlling the locusts while safeguarding the environment.

He further pointed out that CABI has been piloting the use of drone technology to control the desert locust, to complement traditional surveillance measures.

With regards to pesticides, Dr. Daniel Kyalo Willy, AATF Programme Officer and Policy Expert, called on governments to strengthen pesticides industry so as to ensure approved processes and timely access to quality pesticides and pest control products.

“Facilitating faster testing and registration of new pesticides and pest control products while adhering to laid down protocols is one of the critical areas in the policy environment relevant for the control of Desert Locusts,” he said.

He pointed out that future operations in control of locusts can benefit from conducting a pilot assessment on efficacy and impact of aerial sprays and other methods currently being used in the control of Desert Locusts.

The experts urged African countries to enhance regional cooperation as well as update their policy and regulatory frameworks to address desert locusts’ menace; utilize digital tools to track and monitor the locusts and learn from the current invasions for future preparedness.