Indian boys have swarms

Locust plagueExpert: Your own know-how could help

According to the UN, East Africa is currently experiencing the worst plague of locusts in this region in 25 years, with a dramatic impact on agriculture. This exacerbates the already difficult situation on site. Climate change, civil wars and terrorist militias have presented the inhabitants of this region with major challenges for years

Christiane Knoll: You should think of a crush like a natural disaster. Alexandre Latschininsky told us that three weeks ago. By then the swarms had already spread over a number of countries from East Africa to Pakistan. At the FAO, the food and agriculture organization of the UN, Latchininsky is responsible for combating the huge swarms, a Herculean task, once the swarms are that big and because the authority is also based in Rome, the native Russian also fights with them Corona restrictions. Mr. Latschininsky, one wonders which is worse?

Alexandre Latchininsky: Good question, the corona virus hits us a lot, of course, but the locust plague is also quite serious. It doesn't get any better either, because so many schools have laid eggs and hatching is now beginning in large parts of East Africa.

Knoll: The second generation has hatched, in some places the third generation is already maturing: What is the situation like at the moment. Where are the swarms and how big are they?

Latchininsky: In February we saw large swarms in almost all parts of East Africa, in Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, also in Uganda and Tanzania, the expansion is certainly increasing. We expect more eggs to be laid in March. The only good thing is that there was little rain almost everywhere. Except maybe the south coast of Sudan. That makes the conditions for oviposition not exactly ideal. This in turn means that the swarms are likely to move north, not east because of the prevailing winds.

Young plants particularly endangered

Knoll: Which countries could it hit?

Latchininsky: South Sudan is threatened. You know the humanitarian situation is very complicated, it is really difficult to organize controls there. The other country is Uganda, where they have little experience with locusts. An expert is currently investigating the situation, the report is still pending.

Locust researcher Alexandre Latchininsky supports the correct use of insecticides against the huge swarms of insects in East Africa (Copyright Alexandre Latchininsky)

Knoll: In the first wave the locusts have eaten the natural vegetation, in the next they would pounce on the fields. How do the farmers react? Are you still sowing or are you waiting?

Latchininsky: Yes, at the moment sowing begins. I haven't heard of delays, but in fact, that's the biggest threat. The swarms will attack the young plants that are still very vulnerable.

Chemical pesticides: "massive impact on the environment"

Knoll: What are you doing right now to stop the locusts? Is there enough money and staff in times of Corona, especially since mobility is limited. The FAO is based in Rome, so these are not the best conditions for fighting a locust plague.

Latchininsky: A major campaign is underway in Africa, even without constant intervention by European experts. At the moment, for example, we are commissioning experts from Morocco, Mauritania and other West African countries for the various aspects of the plague, because they are not affected by the corona virus. Among other things, they help their East African colleagues with training for the people who then carry out the control and spray. In February we treated 123,000 hectares, which is quite a considerable area, although we will increase that because more pesticides are arriving.

Depending on the habitat and situation, we use very different methods. It is important, for example, whether we have a swarm or just hatched grasshoppers that do not fly but rather hop. In Somalia, for example, large areas were sprayed with biological agents, with mushrooms. What you hear is going pretty well.

Most other countries use chemical pesticides, mostly organophosphates. They're very effective, killing locusts in hours. But they have massive effects on the environment, on insects like honey bees. That is why we follow a strict control plan during the campaigns, including cleaning and disposing of the pesticide containers. Which is also a big problem.

"It's not over"

Knoll: A prognosis is certainly not easy, but can you imagine that you will get the plague under control in the next few months?

(Alexandre Latchininsky) Locust plague: "The food security of millions of people is at risk"
It is the worst plague of locusts in East Africa for decades: in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia square kilometer-sized swarms of insects have been observed. The renowned locust researcher Alexandre Latchininsky supports the countries in bringing the huge swarms under control.

Latchininsky: The situation will remain very complicated in March, in April the development will depend very much on the weather and rainfall. At the moment we are trying to reduce the number of locusts as much as possible so that they do not lay as many eggs and cannot produce as many offspring.

Knoll: We weren't talking about Asia. Saudi Arabia is affected, what about Pakistan?

Latchininsky: The good news is that it rained very little in Pakistan and southern Iran. The locust propagation is not very successful there. But it's not over. It continues between India and Pakistan and in southern Iran. We expect the next generation to hatch next week, i.e. in the third week of March.