With locust swarms growing 20 times larger since March 2020, International Development Secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, has announced a donation of £18 million of new UK aid, to tackle this year’s unprecedented locust outbreaks across Africa and Asia, where millions of insects are destroying thousands of hectares of crops.
Trevelyan made the announcement during her recent visit to British company Micron Group, on the Isle of Wight, which supplies pesticide sprayers to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The impact of the plague of insects across Africa and Asia has been made worse by coronavirus, with vulnerable communities facing dwindling food supplies alongside the pandemic.
Funded by UK aid, the FAO is using Micron Group’s pesticide sprayers across Africa and Asia.
Swarms of millions of insects can cover areas up to 100 square miles or more and these sprayers are able to cover large areas with pesticide.
Since January this year, the FAO has successfully controlled over 600,000 hectares of land, saved 1.2 metric tons crops with a value of $372 million and eradicated over 400 million locusts in 10 countries in East Africa.
Of the new funding announced, £17 million will go to the FAO’s emergency appeal to help to control the increase of locusts across East Africa, Yemen and South West Asia, as well as reduce the risk of swarms spreading into the Sahel.
The UK will also provide up to £1 million to improve early warning and forecasting systems for desert locusts, so that countries can prepare for their arrival. This support, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge and weather data from the UK Met Office, will help the FAO to target locust breeding sites and control outbreaks before they are able to affect crucial crops and pastures.
The World Bank estimates that the cost of supporting farmers and producers affected by locusts in East Africa and Yemen alone could reach $8.5 billion by the end of 2020.
Speaking during the visit, Trevelyan said: “Vulnerable communities are on the brink of starvation because of the biggest locust outbreak in decades, made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.
“British expertise is playing an important role in equipping companies with the right tools to combat the swarms and track where they will go next. But unless other countries also step up and act now, this crisis will spread and cause even more devastation.”
The new funding follows £8 million provided by the UK earlier this year to the FAO appeal, supporting Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Tanzania and Pakistan to destroy these pests. A supercomputer funded by UK aid is also helping countries in East Africa to track the insects’ movements around the continent.
During the visit, the International Development Secretary met with the directors from Micron Group to discuss how their sprayers have been key to tackling locusts in highly affected areas across the world. She also saw how the sprayers are assembled at their Isle of Wight factory and took part in a demonstration on how they work in the field.