Mohammed Ali, 30, a pastoralist, is visibly tired, but relentlessly searching for pasture for his cattle under scorching sunshine. He leads over 400 head of cattle from Ewa to Asayta Woreda in the Afar region. Although pastoralists like Mohammed are accustomed to making the annual 200 km trek in January when the rains stop, they were compelled to make the journey in October – three months early.
“Desert locusts destroyed all the natural pasture including green vegetation cover. Our livestock would starve to death if we did not move,” he said.
According to Ayalew Shumet, the Afar region's coordinator of desert locust operations, about 10 million head of livestock in the region are currently affected by the scarcity of natural pasture. Because pastoralists rely on the weather and environment to secure livestock feed for their livestock, they are heavily impacted by the damage desert locusts have caused on pasture.
Desert locusts have also destroyed entire crop fields leaving farmers, and local authorities worried. Hussein Hundolpe vividly remembers the day locusts invaded his six-hectare maize field in Afambo Woreda with sadness.
“My family and I worked hard to clear the field. I bought an irrigation pump and fuel and ensured that my maize crop received enough water. When the plants were about one meter tall, locusts devoured everything in a few hours”, he said.
Recounting the incident, Ahmed's neighbor, Fatouma, said a large swarm covered their village's sky.
“We threw objects at them, but nothing helped. Although the government moved swiftly to spray the swarm, the damage was already done. Every single farmer in our village lost all their maize and sorghum crop”, she said.
The Afar region has faced an unprecedented locust invasion since August this year. Despite ongoing control efforts, numerous hopper bands have caused immense damage in 33 out of 34 Woredas of the region.
“Farmers need urgent support to re-plant their crops and pastoralists require emergency feed supply otherwise, the food security in the region is at risk,” said Wogris Hafa, the Head of the Livestock, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Office of Chifra Woreda.
Ethiopia has been battling locusts since June 2019. Up to October 21, 2020, over 607 000 hectares of land had been sprayed through aerial and ground operations. Despite these efforts, the desert locust threat prevails due to cross-border movements and prevailing conducive breeding conditions in the country. Numerous immature adult groups and swarms are still moving in the Amhara/Tigray highlands and Somali region (Desert Locust situation update: 19 October 2020).
Floods exacerbate the risk
Between June and September 2020, heavy and prolonged rains led to flooding in the Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Gambella, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples (SNNP)', Sidama, and Somali regions, affecting over one million people, with about 350 000 displaced.
In Aysaqita Woreda in the Afar region, Medina Solea recounts how floodwaters overflowing from the Awash River washed away all her household property, livestock, and crops.
“We ran to the mountains from where we were rescued by a helicopter.”
Now living in an Internally Displaced Persons Camp with her family of 10, Madina says, “We have nothing to start with.”
Although the Awash River frequently floods in August/September following heavy rains in the eastern highland and escarpment areas, this year's flooding is unmatched, according to Aydahis Yasin, the Early Warning and Emergency Response Director, Afar Region.
“Over 46 000 hectares of cropland and 26 000 hectares of pasture in Afar were destroyed by floods, “he said.
Food security at stake
According to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report, about 6.7 million people (in seven regions) are expected to be highly food insecure, in Crisis (IPC Phase 3), or worse between October and December 2020.
However, the new wave of desert locusts, exacerbated by economic hardships resulting from COVID-19 restrictions, and flooding will likely amplify food insecurity unless urgent action is taken, to assist the affected communities.
Alongside efforts to control desert locusts, FAO is implementing a programme to safeguard productive assets and livelihoods of the affected population in Afar, Amhara, Oromia, Somalia, SNNP, and Tigray regions. The Organization is supporting over 70 000 households with agricultural inputs (seeds, tools, livestock feed, and veterinary drugs), cash transfers, training, and extension support. These interventions were informed by the May-December 2020 funding Appeal of $79 million, which is now 60 percent funded.
“With the growing humanitarian needs, we require more funds to support additional households”, said Fatouma Seid, the FAO Representative in Ethiopia.Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).