Locusts to invade Zimbabwe


Locusts might pose the biggest threat to the 2016/17

LOCUSTS, armyworm and quelea birds might pose the biggest threat to the 2017 farming season, undermining the country’s food security situation.
According to the International Red Locust Control Organisation for Central and Southern Africa (IRLCOCSA), there are strong indications of migratory pests becoming a major threat to Zimbabwe and other countries within the southern African region.
“Forecasts show that all migratory pests will be of great concern next year and may affect food security in southern Africa. Quelea birds are a major problem in the region affecting small-scale farmers,” said IRLCOCSA director, Moses Okhoba.
IRLCOCSA’s six member states — Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania — are on high alert for the build-up of migratory pests as the current weather system increases the prevalence of insects.
The poor rainfall situation affecting the region is said to be conducive for the build-up of migratory pest populations.
The changes in climatic conditions have brought favourable breeding conditions for army worms and red locusts as the crop-eating pests have become a major problem for small-scale farmers not only in Zimbabwe but the rest of the region.
With farmers already struggling to recover from two consecutive years of crop under performance due to a severe El Nino induced drought, an invasion by the feared red locust or army worm would spell disaster for the country.
Erratic rainfall and long dry spells during the current farming season contributed to large-scale crop failure and livestock deaths across the country and as a result, nearly three million Zimbabweans are food insecure.
Higher temperatures and more frequent droughts, bring with them increased pressures of migratory pests such as the red locusts, African migratory locusts, brown locusts, desert locusts,  tree locusts, army worms and quelea birds.
Addressing guests who attended the 38th session of the Governing Council of Ministers of the IRLCOCSA in Harare, Okhoba said the situation in the region was worrying as limited survey and control operations had been undertaken in 2015 and 2016.
“Planned surveys and control operations in outbreak areas have not been undertaken due to lack of resources. Critical is the fact that evaluation of pre-breeding populations in all outbreak areas was not undertaken, thus exposing all member States to food insecurity due to surprise outbreaks,” said Okhoba.
In Zimbabwe, more than 800 hectares of cereal grain crops and 300 hectares of pasture were destroyed by outbreaks of army worms in 2014 which originated from East Africa and the Horn of Africa. Between October and November, moist winds carried the moths into Zimbabwe and deposited them in northern Mashonaland Central Province, from where they spread across the country. A similar pattern of movement occurred in 2013.
Zimbabwe has no breeding ground for locusts; it gets affected by locust swamps that migrate from other countries and since the last plague of the 1930s and 1940s, the region and Zimbabwe has experienced locust upsurges, which if not controlled could have developed into plagues.
In 1995 and 1996, red locust swarms escaped from the Malagarasi Basin, Ikuu-Katavi and Wembere plains and invaded Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.
In 1998, locust swarms escaped from Buzi-Gorongosa Plains in Mozambique and invaded Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia and South Africa.
In 2008, swarms of locusts invaded Zimbabwe from Dimba plains in Mozambique.
In the past two years, locusts control has been undertaken in Lake Chilwa Plains in Malawi, covering 7 000 hectares  and control of locust hoppers and swarms was also done in Ikuu-Katavi plains, covering 8 000 hectares.
The control operations prevented the swarms from migrating from the breeding areas and invading cultivated areas and neighbouring countries.
Migratory pests cross international boundaries with no restrictions, causing damage to crops and plants. In Zimbabwe, armyworm and quelea bird outbreaks have become a regular feature on small grain cereal crops.
“A swarm of red locusts with 40 million individual insects is not uncommon during outbreaks. A red locust will eat its own weight of food in a single day and on average, an adult weighs two grammes. Therefore, a small swarm with 40 million individuals will potentially consume an estimated amount of 80 metric tonnes per day,” Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Minister Joseph Made said.
“Comparatively, the average daily food intake of a human being is 0,65 kg. By implication, if a small swarm of the size of 40 million red locusts were to feed exclusively on a food crop, it could deprive a total of 123 077 people of food in one day.”
IRLCOCSA is a regional inter-governmental organisation mandated to prevent the re-occurrence of migratory pest plagues in central and southern Africa.

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