More funding needed to fight locusts

FAO launches aid appeal

27 May 2021 | Disasters

ELLANIE SMIT

WINDHOEK

More funding is required to ensure that agricultural livelihoods are safeguarded by ensuring that the outbreak of locusts in Namibia is brought under control before the next planting season.

An estimated 300 subsistence farmers have been affected by the pest in the Omusati Region alone, with more than 5 000 farming households expected to be severely affected in all regions of the country.

“In all my 75 years of life I have never witnessed something as horrifying as this,” Elim communal farmer Wilhelm Asser told the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

“We were expecting a plentiful harvest this year, but the locust outbreak is threatening to undo our hard work,” said Asser.

The locusts feed on grass, maize, millet, sorghum, wheat and other green vegetation.

The FAO said Elim is just one of the many villages joining a growing list of hundreds of locust-infested farming settlements in the north-central, north-eastern and southern parts of Namibia, where thousands of local inhabitants are facing a serious threat to their livelihoods.

Like Asser, many villagers’ crop fields are under threat from the locust swarms and families are worried about the prospects of attaining a good harvest this year, says the FAO.

Absalom Nembenge, a communal farmer in Ekamba, located a few kilometres east of Elim, says most farmers in his village feel helpless against the menacing locusts.

“They come in their thousands and quickly devour everything in their path that is green; we are very frightened by their viciousness.”

Farmers are trying everything from burning tyres to making noise to try to chase away the pests.

Fighting the good fight

The government locust-spraying teams are comprised of agricultural officers and members of the Namibia Defence Force (NDF), under the supervision of two committed women, Violet Simaata, chief agricultural scientific officer, and Paulina Shilunga, agricultural scientific officer, in the agriculture ministry.

They have been at the forefront of the locust control effort since it began last year and are reluctant to throw in the towel.

“We are the last line of defence for thousands of farmers across the country, which is no easy task but we remain committed to ensuring that livelihoods are not severely impacted,” says Shilunga.

The government has contributed N$30 million towards locust control efforts since the start of the outbreak.

The FAO says the government has indicated that an additional N$28 million is needed to contain the pests.

To complement government efforts, the FAO, through funding from the United Nations Central Emergency Fund (CERF), Special Fund for Emergency and Rehabilitation Assistance (SFERA) and the FAO Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) has so far provided both technical and financial support of N$7 million since last year.

FAO support ensured that over 130 government staff were trained on how to control the locust outbreak and equipped with spraying and camping equipment, personal protective equipment, bio-pesticides, transportation, and locust surveillance and monitoring tools. However more funding is needed to combat the locusts, says the FAO.

Locusts in Southern Africa

The African migratory locust swarms have been ravaging fields and grazing lands across four countries in the region: Namibia, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

However, the pest has now spread across to other countries such as Angola and South Africa.

In Namibia, two other locust species – the red locust and the brown locust – are known to have swarmed and damaged grazing in southern parts of the country.