Ensuring food security amid Locust attack

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  • Jagadish Wagle

Background

Food security has been the biggest challenge since the outbreak of COVID-19 (Corona) has broken out from Wuhan, China in December last year. The world has paid huge attention to control transmitting COVID-19, health hazards and panic. Due to what, basic requirements like food, work, income and livelihood have categorically been put in less priority automatically. The severity of Corona virus has once again proved that the food should be categorised as a top priority. In another word, no one is able to function well without food. Food, of course, is an important measure of human health and well-being.

Moreover food is also a supplement of nutritional requirements. So it is wrong to think that food is only a stuff of filling belly. Besides that, there is a huge economy and politics associated with food. The COVID-19, natural calamity, climate change and food waste are the biggest challenges that should be addressed to make sure there is enough food supply. In later time, the world has been facing unprecedented food insecurity from the invasion of swarms of locusts destroying millions of miles of agriculture, plants and fodder especially in the horn of Africa and beyond. This article underlines an issue of food security which has been greatly challenged by the devouring behaviour of locust grasshoppers.

The swarm have added a serious threat of food insecurity especially in the horn of Africa where millions of people are suffering from hunger. The COVID-19, Locusts and natural calamity have raised a question in achieving the goal of poverty alleviation and eradication of hunger as targeted a in the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, a global efforts initiated by the United Nations. As a food insecure country, Nepal has been entangled with COVID-19, locust, and other man made and nature induced incidents creating further challenge of food system.

What is locusts? 

Locusts belong to a family of grasshoppers called Acrididae. Locusts are solitary and gregarious by nature. Locust (Schistocercagregaria) can change their behaviour in accordance with weather. The best deserving habitation of locust is desert in the horn of Africa. Rain and moist on desert help them to be prolific. The gregarious also known as desert locus devastate crops, pasture and fodder however solitary grasshoppers do not destroy agriculture. Locusts do not attack people or animals.

The body size of a desert locust is roughly the same as the index finger of a man. In two weeks of hatching period a female can lay 150 eggs within a single pod in the moistly desert. An adult locust can fly up to 93 miles in a single day with the direction of wind.

As of June2020, locust sneaked more than 23 countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Available moist and harvesting environment of May until July is favourable condition of breeding swarm. The first outbreak of locust occurred in Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Sudan in 2003. It is said that, in October and November of 1988, a swarm of the desert locust set off to the Caribbean and neighbouring parts of South America from West Africa a journey of more than 3,100 miles just in10 days. Approximately 6 million years ago, a swarming locust is believed to have crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Africa to America.

Locust as an opportunities

Since locusts are the biggest challenge of food insecurity because of their ability to destroy millions of acres of plant based agriculture in an hour but it is also an edible insect. It can be transformed as a reliable source of food, income and employment if approaches can be changed. The economic and social cost to control the invasion of the swarming locust can be capitalised as an opportunity of adding food item in the list. Evidences show that Locusts have been eaten throughout history by considering delicious food in many countries including Nepal.

Food insecurity threats

Despite the earlier prediction about locust that could not enter Nepal due to an unfamiliar weather condition, the sky above Kathmandu was covered by the migrating locust in the end of June. Farmers were bothered due to the lack of proper controlling mechanism.

According to an information provided by the World Bank (WB), ‘A small swarm (1 km2) can be made up of 80 million locusts and can consume the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people while a large swarm can eat up to 1.8 million metric tons of green vegetation, equivalent to food enough to feed 81 million people.’ 

The locust crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have added serious threats to food security, income and livelihood of vulnerable people, creating a crisis within a crisis.

Similarly, Taylor Maggiacomo and Kaya Lee Berne have mentioned for the National Geographic Magazine that a swarm contains “70 billion flying insects, covering 460 square miles – about 1.5 times the size of New York City – and devouring more than 300 million pounds of crops in one day.”  According to the evidences a swarm about 192 billion locust can cover at least 926.6 square miles area, which eat the same amount of food as 90 million people in one day. The swarms of plague can fly millions miles far within very short period of time.

The locust outbreaks in Ethiopia and Somalia are the worst in 25 years and in Kenya in 75 years. And, India is witnessing its worst locust invasion in decade. According to the World Bank the potential damages and losses from locust could reach as high as US$8.5 billion by the end of this year. In Nepal, it has been believed that 1100 hector crops were damaged by the swarm although it was not huge what could it be.

According to the WB within the wider East Africa region, 24 million people are food insecure and 8 million are internally displaced. Locust swarm also adds a crisis of food insecurity where the people are battling with the COVID-19 pandemic. These impacts on the food cycle could drastically push people further into poverty by threatening livelihoods, plummeting people’s savings. According to the WB, the cost of response during the last major locust outbreak in 2003-05 in West Africa, grew from $1 million in June 2003 to $100 million just 14 months later. Ultimately, it cost over $450 million to end the 2003-2005 plague, which caused an estimated $2.5 billion in crop damage. Hence, locusts further threaten food security and access to pasture for livestock.

Efforts to combat the crisis

Farmers used fume and noise while locusts were encroaching cropland in Sindhulimadi of Nepal. Due to what, the 80 percent locusts were gone away. Indian farmers and locals were also advised the same way to control locust. Early Warning’ preparedness and response against future locust outbreaks, surveillance, vigilance, using chemicals, fume and making noise are helpful method to control locust. Using chemicals is the last resort as it is harmful to the local residents and the environment. Constant research, study, communication feedback help to identify the swarm’s behaviour so that the remedies can be applied as needed. Also, the way of research helps to transform the approach to adopt locusts as a source of food business permanently.

As mentioned by The World Bank(WB), The Emergency Locust Response Program (ELRP) with sum of US$500 million have been initiated institutionally to provide as immediate assistance to the vulnerable victims and farmers, strengthen regulatory framework and institutional capacity. Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda were financed first under the initial phase of the ELRP. Similarly, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is also working with affected countries.

Nepalese scenarios

According to the sources, in May-June 2020, Eight million locusts had already been to 52 districts including Kathmandu. Recorded crop lost is 1100 ha. In second week of July, huge numbers of locust had been reported to be died in the high hilly parts of Nepal as the insect cannot survive below 15otemperature. Thanks to the changing environment that prevented the swarm to migrate in Nepal from Africa through India creating huge fear of food insecurity. Although the second phase of swarm has been to different parts of Nepal in third week of July. In 1962, Nepal had such kind of first experience in Dhading, Kathmandu and Nuwakot. Similarly in 1996, the swarms had destroyed 80 percent of crops in Chitwan and partially in Bara, Makwanpur and Mahottari districts. This is a time to gear the initiatives up to save agriculture and farmers’ income from locusts.

Conclusion

Food is a great concern of nutritional stuff that is important in achieving human wellbeing. However, food system in the world is severely stressed due to human greed and insensibility. The locust crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have added serious threats to food security, income and livelihood of vulnerable people, creating a crisis within a crisis. Millions of destitute people in the world have starved and the other have suffered from obesity. The imperfect global food system can be blamed for unequal outcomes. Indeed, the total demand for agricultural products in 2030 will be about 60 percent higher than of today. Despite the need of more food, the world has been experiencing unprecedented challenge of food security. Hence; the time is seeking a global unanimous effort to resolve the future challenges. The global leadership should work together to tackle with the global issues like COVID-19, Locust crisis and food in/security as ‘United we stand, divided we fall’.

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