Dr. Martin Baumgart has been working for more than 30 years in various areas of agricultural development in Africa. In the field of alternative locust control he has done research in the field for many years. During the last great desert locust plague in the nineties, he worked in a project for environmentally friendly locust control. In Kenya he will start preparing affected communities for new locust swarms.
Enormous swarms of locusts are currently eating their way through East Africa. In north-eastern Kenya, new swarms are exptected, as the conditions for reproduction are favourable there. What can be done to prevent such severe destruction or to avoid that huge swarm are forming in first place?
Dr. Baumgart: It is almost impossible to control or fight swarms. Constant monitoring of the breeding areas is necessary, but most of the affected countries lack the technical capacities and know-how to do this. It would be more helpful for most countries if they could at least maintain the structures that permanently monitor population development and, if larval bands appear, intervene immediately and effectively by using very little insecticide. However, this also requires communication between the authorities, agricultural advisors and the affected communities. Finally, the increasing uncertainty of rainfall in locust areas has made it very difficult to predict the occurrence of swarms, in particular in the context of global climate change.
What are the options for combating locusts?
Since it is in the nature of locust infestations to occur only every 10 to 15 years, research on alternative control methods often fails during the locust free period. Extensive research on biological control and other resources of non-chemical control took place in the 1990s. Here, the use of specific pathogens and insect growth regulators was researched. The use of natural insecticides such as active ingredients of the Indian Niembaum are also interesting and above all promising to protect agricultural crops from destruction. The locust will actually eat anything but the Niembaum. At the same time, the eggs and larval ligaments must be controlled at an early stage. However, it is not easy to find them in a potential area of several million square kilometres.
In Kenya, you will prepare people for possible further locust swarms. What is your approach?
First of all, it is important to gain access to the responsible people at the community level, and thus to the rural population affected by damage. The local partner structures of Johanniter are essential. As soon as a local analysis has been carried out, possible alternative control methods should be identified, which are promising even with existing simple resources. These should focus mainly on the larval bands. For example, small ditches can be used to prevent larval migration. It is also possible to use plant insecticides such as extracts to protect the newly planted crops from being eaten during the rainy season, which will start soon.
All this requires practical and locally adapted training and sensitisation measures that address the biological life cycles of the desert locust, larval and swarm identification, as well as methods to control locusts even at community level. In case that the use of pesticide will be necessary, all important effects and risks for users and the environment must be considered. Farmers need to be very well trained for this. We will develop training material for this purpose with our partners. In the long term, the aim should be to introduce an appropriate contingency plan for the communities in order to be better prepared against locust infestations in the future.
Cyclones in the Indian Ocean in 2019 created very favourable breeding conditions for the desert locust on the South Arabian Peninsula. Several generations were able to develop undiscovered and uncontrolled and form their first swarms. Favourable rainfall conditions in other breeding areas in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Iran led to the growing of the populations and further swarms. While part of the swarms moved to Pakistan and northern India, others also developed in Ethiopia, northern Somalia and northeastern Kenya.