Farmers urged to regularly inspect their fields as locusts’ threat looms

In a bid to prepare the country to combat desert locusts, the agriculture ministry has partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to monitor closely information about the movement of these migratory pests in the region.

That is a tactic contained in a press release which the Ministry issued on Thursday, February 13, 2020.

It comes after the locusts invaded some of Rwanda’s neighouring countries Uganda and Tanzania this week, months after they started ravaging different parts of Kenya.

High chances of invasion

Earlier on Thursday, Rwanda Metrological Agency had announced that the locusts were likely to invade Rwanda between the next ten and 14 days, depending on the weather patterns.

During a phone interview Thursday morning, Matthieu Mbati Mugunga, the acting Division Manager of Weather, Climate Services and Application Division said that directions of the locust swarms are under twenty-four-seven monitoring and the 10-day probability is as low as 20 percent.

"Because we are still having dry weather with Uganda, locusts may reach Rwanda in 10 days to two weeks. But if we experience wet weather conditions, they will not spread quickly."

Mugunga explained the chances of locusts arriving in 10 to 14 days are still as low as between 10 to 20 percent.

The prediction, Mugunga said, is based on the northwestern winds in the region.

"In the ten-day forecast we have just released, we are likely to have light rainfall which might influence wet weather condition. In such a condition, locusts move slower," he said.

However, Mugunga noted that though they might take long due to the wet weather, the locusts’ invasion into Rwanda is almost definite, mainly the swarms already grazing Tanzania.

He added that only diversion of northwestern wind in the region can just divert the locusts to South Sudan or Democratic Republic of Congo; nonetheless, saying that the Eastern winds in Tanzania could also blow the swarms to Rwanda.

Meanwhile, the agriculture ministry stated in a statement that together with other institutions, they will continue to assess of the situation.

Farm monitoring

The ministry advised farmers to visit their farms on a daily basis, and give timely information in case they see unusual pests or signs in their farms so that they get rapid support if need be.  However, it advised people against rumors.

The farmers can call the Ministry through telephone number: 4127, or inform agricultural advisors and nearby agronomists.

The recent weather in East Africa has created conditions that favour rapid locust reproduction. Left unchecked, the numbers of crop-devouring insects there could grow 500 times by June, FAO indicated.

Given the problem, FAO said it is urgently seeking $76 million from donors and other organisations to help the affected countries fight the outbreak. The amount required is likely to increase as the locusts spread.

Key facts on locusts

Locusts are the oldest migratory pest in the world. They differ from ordinary grasshoppers in their ability to change behaviour (gregarise) and form swarms, FAO says.

According to the UN agency, they have a high capacity to multipl and migrate over relatively large distances (they can fly up to 150 km per day) and, if good rains fall and ecological conditions become favourable, rapidly reproduce and increase some 20-fold in three months.

The most devastating of all locust species is the Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria).

During plagues, it can easily affect 20 percent of the Earth's land, more than 65 of the world's poorest countries, and potentially damage the livelihood of one tenth of the world's population.

During quiet periods, Desert Locusts live in the desert areas between West Africa and India – an area of about 16 million square km where they normally survive in about 30 countries.

Adult locusts can eat their own weight every day, i.e. about two grams of fresh vegetation per day.

A swarm the size of a given City will consume the same amount of food in a single day as half the population that City.

An average swarm will destroy crops that could feed 2,500 people for a year, FAO said. A desert locust swarm can be 460 square miles in size and pack between 40 and 80 million insects into less than half a square mile.

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