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The locust outbreak in Namibia: Farmers just cannot win

The great rains, floods, and rising temperatures in Namibia earlier this year created perfect conditions for swarms of locusts to hatch. They cause severe damage to crops and can devour a whole field of maize in a single night. The locusts also caused damage in South Africa and Botswana.

In 2020, large swarms invaded dozens of countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, Eritrea, India, and most Middle East countries. In Southern Africa, the locusts invaded Angola, Botswana, Namibia (Kavango region), Zambia, and Zimbabwe. According to the Ministry of Water, Agriculture and Land Reform eport of March, 2021, the African migratory locusts started off in the north-eastern and are now in the southern region of Namibia causing excessive damage to crops and grazing in the areas.

To date they are reported to be in the Kharas, Kavango West, Kavango East and Zambezi regions. According to the report, in the Kharas region the locusts are found on commercial farms bordering the Orange River, and have progressed to communal areas around Ariamsvlei, Warmbad and many others.

Furthermore, the report states that in the Zambezi region the infestation is much higher this season compared to the first wave, especially in the Linyathi and Lyamboloma constituencies.

“The locusts are at different stages of development, from hopping to flying stage, and have caused tremendous damage to the fields. In the Kavango East region, the locusts were located in the Mashare constituency and Rundu East, from which the same swarm progressed to Kavango West, Kapako constituency and Musese constituency,” Petrina Sakaria form the Namibia Agricultural Union said.

“Locusts have damaged at least 50 000 hectares of cropland in Namibia up to January 2021 and have affected close to 300 000 hectares of grazing as reported by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Land Reform,” she added.

An aerial spray of environmentally friendly bio-pesticides is currently recommended to handle the locust problem.

“However, it is important to note that this is a very costly exercise. Furthermore, most of the manufacturers of such chemicals have ran out of stock, and new stock will only be available six months from now. In the interim, it is important to assess other effective measures to contain the further spread of locusts to other regions. Hence, the industry needs to collectively address the matter, and the continuation of government support is essential,” Petrina said.

The best time to spray the locusts is during hopping stage, before they reach the flying stage.

“However, once they reach the flying stage, pesticides should be applied early in the morning before they rise, and in the evening when they settle on the ground.

“Locusts can cause a lot of damage in a short time, and their swarms can fly up to 150 km in a day. Each locust eats around two grams of crop per day, that is equivalent to its own body weight. Locust swarms can destroy all grains, and reduce grasslands to nothing but sand. This will destroy people’s livelihoods as most crops if not all will be devoured.”

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) warned early last year that the outbreaks are threatening the food security and livelihoods of millions of people in Southern Africa.

According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), about 2,3 million people in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia are already facing acute food insecurity and are likely to be seriously affected by the locust invasion.

More about this pest

The red locust (Nomadacris septemfasciata) is common in Sub-Saharan Africa. The name refers to the red colour of its head, thorax and legs. It is sometimes called the criquet nomad in French, due to its movements in the dry season. Their primary food source is grain, so grassy lowlands are their prime habitat. A swarm of 40 million insects can devour 80 000 tonnes of crops per day, and they can travel 20 to 100 kilometres in a single day depending on the wind. The red locusts and the African migratory locusts are breeding at a very rapid rate. Depending on when they hatch, they can spread to all the countries in the region.

Dr Gerhard Verdoorn, Director of Griffon Poison Information Centre in South Africa, said all farmers in Namibia should be on the lookout for locust outbreaks and notify the Department of Agriculture of Namibia.

“There is deltametrien insecticides from AVIMA, and Bayer is registered in Namibia for the control of locusts. The products of both companies are supplied by Coopers Environmental Science in Namibia. Farmers may contact David Faber on +27-82-568-4827 for the insecticides,” Dr Verdoorn said.

Sources: Republikein Namibia/NAU/ Namibian Farming

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