US bill aims to aid fight against desert locusts in East Africa

Tens of thousands of hectares of cropland and pasture have been been destroyed by locusts.

Locust outbreak in East Africa

A bill has been forwarded to the United States of America (USA) Congress to form a multiagency working group aiming to develop:

“A comprehensive, strategic plan to control locust outbreaks in the East African region and address future outbreaks to avert mass-scale food insecurity and potential political destabilisation, and for other purposes.”

To achieve this, the bill further indicates that there will be a formation of a high-level team comprising representatives from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the US National Security Council and the US Departments of State, Defence, and Agriculture.

The desert locust outbreak in East Africa, particularly in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia has negatively impacted food security, local livelihoods, and economic productivity.

The team which is expected to serve for two years will come up with measures to prevent and mitigate future desert locusts and other, similar destructive insect outbreaks in Africa and other parts of the world, which require a humanitarian response.

Last year, the National Treasury termed the invasion by desert locusts as a “systemic risk” that is likely to prevent the economy from attaining its' medium-term growth.

Systemic risk is the possibility that an event at an industry level could severely hurt the entire economy.

Locust invasion witnessed in the country in late 2019 and early 2020 poses a risk to agricultural production and food security,” revealed the Treasury in its' Budget Policy Statement.

“(The locust invasion) could have a negative impact on agricultural output, leading to higher inflation that could slow down economic growth.” it added.

Locust swarms first soared in number in late 2019, as a result of unusual weather patterns amplified by climate change. They dispersed eastwards from Yemen leaving Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia hardest hit.

This year, swarms of desert locusts have reappeared in East Africa to the dismay of farmers and villagers who witnessed them wreak havoc on their crops and pasture in previous years.

Kenya has funnelled tens of millions of shillings towards their control. Kenya’s budgetary allocations for the 2020/21 financial year allocated Ksh48 billion to agriculture, and an additional Ksh4.3 billion from the World Bank was set aside to combat the spread of the desert locust.

Elevating the locusts’ invasion as a fiscal risk places the invading insects among other potential threats to the economy that are watched keenly by policy wonks.

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