Following the looming food security threat posed by the desert locusts which have already invaded Uganda through the northeastern region, the Ministry Of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries have put the entire country on standby.
Solomon Kalema, the Senior Knowledge Management Officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, says that earlier today the Permanent Secretary Pius Wakabi channeled information to all district production officers, agricultural officers, and extension officers notifying them about the forecasted unprecedented threat to food security due to the desert locusts.
Kalema notes that the communication contains guidelines on basic food storage measures to be applied in case of extreme damage from the locusts. He says that the decision has been informed by lessons learned from Kenya where the said insects have been devastating communities for the last weeks.
Although locusts have currently been detected in areas of Amudat, Nakapiripiti, and Moroto, available information indicates that when the major swarms arrive in the country they might spread hitting Teso sub-region first.
Benuis Tukahirwa, a Senior Agriculture Inspector at the department of pests and crop protection says if the swarms are not contained in the first week, there is also a possibility of them moving westwards to Acholi and Lango sub-regions continuing to the southwestern area and possibly crossing to Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Tanzania. Tukahirwa says that if the worst happens then the impact on the desert locusts will be felt across the country.
He adds that although aerial and ground inter-ministerial interventions are underway, they may not be sufficient due to the expected size of the swarms coupled with weather conditions forecasted which might enable further survival, reproduction, and movement of the locusts.
In the past weeks, the desert locusts have been particularly worrisome in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya devastating the food crops and fodder.
According to Food and Agriculture Organization- FAO, Just a single square kilometer swarm containing up to 80 million adults can destroy hundreds of thousands of acres of crops eating the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people. Locusts are known for being migratory pests staying in one place for 17 hours covering 50 to 300kilometres per day.
Antonio Querido, the FAO Country Representative in Uganda, says amid efforts to control locusts, they have dispatched a team that will assess the impact of their invasion on food security, livelihoods and livestock in both affected and yet to be affected areas. After the assessment, there will be interventions to support residents.
He, however, expresses worry that even before an assessment is done, they are sure of the potential devastation of crops and pasture in the northern and eastern areas which already suffer from high levels of food insecurity.
The Office of the Prime Minister through its disaster management unit has since dispatched some relief items to support the districts of Amudat, Nakapiripiti, and Moroto. The package includes 15 tonnes of rice, 12 tonnes of maize flour and other logistics as they mobilize for more.
The Ministry of Agriculture has since passed out information warning the entire populace to stock enough food. However, the warning might have come in late as many people are likely to have already sold off a number of crops harvested in the recent farming season. Uganda last experienced a major locust invasion in 1961, with immense damage on crops which resulted in acute hunger.
Why not eat them?
On Sunday, John Byabagambi, the Minister for Karamoja advised Ugandans to eat the insects. Of course, the desert locusts are edible and said to be containing a number of nutrients.
In countries like Yemen, which were attacked by the plague last year, villagers reportedly chased the swarms of locusts using special nets scooping the insects out of the air in an attempt to catch the insects to save their crops midst of a food crisis. “Instead of them eating our vegetables, now we eat locusts with rice and our vegetables are fine," one Yemeni farmer was quoted by local media.
In the same development, Querido notes that in Iran people have been developing the capacity to turn the insects into use by making animal feeds among other products. He, however, observes that the threat posed to desert countries might not be as much compared to an area with green vegetation. He also points out that the size and speed of the swarm itself make it difficult to harvest even if communities would wish to.
He further warns that since the government has taken a step of spraying the insects, locals should not attempt to eat the insect as it will be exposing them to the insecticides which they are going to use.