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Locusts and a Lack of Rain

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) added two more countries to its list of those in need of external assistance for food, exacerbated by the strain imposed by a massive group of migrating locusts.

Namibia and Tanzania were added to the list when dry weather conditions aggravated their food insecurity. The list also includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Eswatini, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Uganda, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. 

Although global cereal production seems strong from these countries, a lack of adequate rainfall paired with a desert locust outbreak in East Africa are possible contributors for the expectation that cereal import requirements for these countries are nevertheless estimated to increase by 4.2 million tonnes from 2019. 

According to FAO's quarterly Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, published on 5 March 2020, although the locusts only minimally impacted crops in 2019, at that time most crops were already harvested. Now the locusts are not only early, but also part of the largest infestation in the past 25 years for Africa, and the FAO cited "serious concerns for crops and pasture resources in 2020." 

Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia have all been invaded by the locusts. "In these areas, where high food insecurity levels prevail following consecutive poor rainy seasons, the persistence of the outbreak could result in substantial pasture losses, if control measures are not up-scaled, and a marked increase in food insecurity prevalence and severity may result," the report said.

Those at-risk crop losses would include one of Somalia's important harvest seasons. The "Gu" harvest usually makes up for roughly 60 percent of the country's total cereal production, meaning if the locusts bypass ground or control measures, they could substantially cut into the aggregate cereal production. Along with the cereal and crop product, these pests also decimate fields where livestock would typically graze, and they could posisbly shift to other regions and crops. 

You can read more about agricultural security in the Security Management March 2019 article, "Barnyard Biosecurity."