Dark clouds are forming over Zambia. If it were rain, it would have been fine, but unfortunately it is swarms of millions of deadly locusts. They are deadly because they can cause famine related deaths.
An African migratory locust (AML) outbreak is upon us and already causing havoc in some regions. This is not a typical outbreak of the dreadful desert locusts which cause regular unmeasurable misery in East Africa. This is a local outbreak, which is believed to be originating in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.
According to the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization) of the United Nations, a swarm of only one square kilometre can consume the same quantity of food as 35 000 people in a single day. Normally, these insects are harmless and live in solitary for years, but when the conditions are right, usually with a lot of rainfall, a dramatic change happens. Biologists call this the “gregarious phase”. They start to increase exponentially in numbers, experience biological changes and start to sense each another. Instead of repelling one another, they become attracted to one another and begin marching in coordination over large areas. If these environmental conditions persist, it will just get worse.
Subsistence farmers are mostly defenceless against this natural phenomenon and can only watch their crops disappear before their eyes in minutes. We don’t have to elaborate on the consequences…
There are effective precautionary measures and remedies against locust outbreaks, but they must be implemented in time and swiftly. Unfortunately, Sub-Saharan Africa is vast and not famous for our proactive actions.
Aerial surveillance and locust mapping of the region is already implemented with huge success and pesticide spraying is done, but it is limited. Timing is everything and we need to kill them on the ground during the early development phase. Another problem is the ecological sensitivity of their places of origin. Focussed, environmentally friendly pesticides are desperately needed to spare beneficial insects and animals.
The FAO is currently spending $500 000 on aerial surveillance, mapping and other locust suppression strategies. Our farmers can help them by being on constant alert and reporting outbreaks as soon as possible. Let us hope we come out of this with very few casualties. Luckily, we can stay positive with new innovations in agriculture to keep you safe and boost your profits.
Read about proper farm management in this edition and explore the options for mechanisation.
Du Preez de Villiers – firstname.lastname@example.org