The Ministry of Agriculture has received 40 pickup trucks in its fight against the spread of desert locusts. The vehicles will enable the Ministry to spray farms and conduct ground surveillance.
Donated by the Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 22 of the vehicles are single cabin pickups and will be used to mount sprayers. The remaining are double cabin pickups and will be used to conduct ground surveillance during locust invasions.
The Ministry has been challenged by the shortage of logistics to control the locust infestation, according to Weldehawariat Assefa, director of plant health regulations at the Ministry.
The locust infestation started in June 2019, and it broke out again in December 2019, eventually covering 434,253ha of vegetation in 77 weredasof seven regional states and Dire Dawa. Addis Abeba, Gambela and Benishangul-Gumuz regional states were not invaded by the locust, which covered more than 351 square kilometres and consumed at least 1.7 million tonnes of green vegetation a day.
Out of the total vegetation area infested by locusts, 90pc was saved from damage, according to Weldehawariat.
Locust infestations broke out in eastern, northeastern and southeastern portions of the country, most visibly devouring crop and pasture fields in Afar Regional State and Dire Dawa. Ethiopia has not seen such severe desert locust outbreaks in more than 25 years.
IGAD Climate Prediction & Applications Centre estimated that between December 2019 and March 2020 in Ethiopia locusts damaged 114,000ha, 41,000ha and 36,000ha of sorghum, maize and wheat, respectively. It also estimated that one million people will need food assistance due to the impact of the desert locust, having lost close to 200,000ha of cereal crops equivalent to over 3.5 million tonnes of grain.
Locusts are expected to swarm across the country during this season due to heavy rainfall, which provides favourable conditions for the swarms to breed rapidly, according to Bayeh Mulatu (PhD), integrated pest management expert at FAO, which spent 1.4 million dollars for the procurement of the vehicles.
Over the past couple of months, FAO also donated three aerial chemical spraying helicopters to the Ministry, which is conducting aerial surveillance using two aeroplanes and six helicopters to control the locust infestation.
Hopper bands, huge aggregations of locusts travelling on the ground, usually come to the country from the eastern parts of Sudan, Yemen, Somaliland and Somalia. The northern, northeastern, eastern and southeastern parts of the country were infested with bands of hoppers.
In Yemen and Somalia, eggs are hatching in large numbers and forming hopper bands and entering the northeastern and eastern parts of the country via Djibouti to Tigray, Afar, Amhara, Somali and Oromia regional states.
However, the trend of locust infestation has changed recently, according to Weldehawariat, who says that since early December 2019, the southern parts of the country were invaded with locust bands that hatched in Kenya.
“This has never occurred before,” he said.
Even though the heavy rainfall is favourable for the grasshoppers to be hatched in great numbers, it is also unfriendly when they pass the larva and pupal stage and became adults, according to Weldehawariat.
Swarms of hoppers devoured 100pc of teffcropland in some parts, especially in Amhara Regional State. The desert locusts also devastated 80pc of the pasture fields in the lowland parts of the country.
The government should control the locust infestation, specifically between the months of July and December in which crops are cultivated, according to Messay Mulugeta (PhD), associate professor of development & food security studies at Addis Abeba University.
“If not, the hopper bands could cause huge destruction to croplands and impact the food security status of the country,” he said.
Ethiopia does not have the capacity to use irrigation to compensate for the crops that were consumed by locusts, argued Messay.
“The country’s level of irrigation development is very low, and the impact would be severe,” he said.
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