Locusts Threaten Crop Production in Uganda

Uganda has a warm climate, ample fertile land, and regular rainfall, all of which provide one of the best environments for agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa. The Agricultural Sector is and continues to be the most critical sector in Uganda, employing approximately 72% of the population and contributing about 32% to the GDP. The industry is currently at risk of desert locusts that threaten the livelihoods of those smallholder farmers.

A farmer in northern Uganda in her cotton field.

Uganda has seen two sets of locust swarm invasion in February and in April of this year. The existing swarms have not caused significant damage to the vegetation cover. However, there is an imminent threat to food and income security when the eggs hatch into hoppers in the next few weeks, as has been the case with our neighbor, Kenya. The swarms have spread to over 24 districts in Eastern, Northern and North Eastern Ugandan and egg-laying will most likely continue.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has warned the locust swarms could increase 500 times by June, posing a significant threat to millions of people in an already vulnerable region. In May, the eggs will hatch into hopper bands that will form new swarms in late June and July, which coincides with the start of the harvest, according to FAO. Unlike previous swarms of mature, less ravaging insects that crossed into the country in February, the new arrivals comprise of insects at a “growth stage” that have the “potential to destroy vegetation wherever they go.” One ton of desert locusts can eat an equivalent of food meant to feed 2,500 people within a space of 12 to 24 hours. According to vegetation experts, these fast-breeding locusts can ravage no less than 200 tons of vegetation in a mere 24 hours.

The government has deployed paramilitary troops with hand spray pumps to try and contain the swarms. Still, the fight against the ravaging pests is difficult because the government banned flights to slow the spread of COVID-19, the highly infectious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus. Uganda’s agriculture system is mostly subsistence, and a large proportion of the population is highly reliant on unprocessed and fresh-food markets meaning the infestation is particularly damaging should the efforts to contain them turn futile.

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