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FAO continues to fight Desert Locust upsurge amid COVID-19 constraints

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is continuing its efforts to contain the Desert Locust upsurge in East Africa despite restrictions on the movement of personnel and equipment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic

FAO is encouraging all countries to use eLocust3, a rugged handheld tablet and app, which records and transmits data in real time via satellite to national locust centres and to the Desert Locust Information Service (DLIS) based at FAO headquarters in Rome.

In the six East African countries worst affected or at risk of locusts - Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania - around 20mn people are experiencing acute food insecurity and a further 15mn people in Yemen are being affected by the pest.

Widespread rainfall in March is expected to produce a dramatic increase in locust numbers in East Africa over the coming months, with new swarms expected to move from Kenya into South Sudan and Uganda.  The situation is worrying in Iran and Yemen where a new generation of locusts is emerging.

“There is no significant slowdown because all the affected countries working with FAO consider Desert Locusts a national priority,” said Cyril Ferrand, FAO's resilience team leader for East Africa.

FAO is augmenting national efforts by providing support for surveillance as well as aerial and ground spraying being conducted in 10 affected countries.

So far, more than 240,000 ha have been treated with chemical pesticides or biopesticides across the region and 740 people have been trained up to conduct ground locust control operations.  But COVID-19 has had an impact on the supply of motorised sprayers and pesticides.

“The biggest challenge we are facing at the moment is the supply of pesticides and we have delays because global air freight has been reduced significantly,” Ferrand said.

“Our absolute priority is to prevent a breakdown in pesticide stocks in each country. That would be dramatic for rural populations whose livelihoods and food security depend on the success of our control campaign.”

As COVID-19 restricts the movement of personnel in the field, FAO is intensifying remote data collection and the network of partners, civil society, extension workers and grassroot organisations is critical for providing information from remote locations especially in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan.

FAO has developed a version of eLocust3 that can be used on mobile phones and a GPS device in order to broaden usage and coverage.