Agric & Environment Editor
Isolated clouds of African migratory locusts swarming in the sky were spotted in the Gonarezhou National Park last week, sparking fears of a locust attack that has not been seen in Zimbabwe for years now, a senior Government official said.
Dr Cames Mguni, director of the Department of Research and Specialist Services in the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement said on Tuesday that the isolated swarms were witnessed in multiple locations that included Gonarezhou National Park which shares its border with Mozambique, Save Conservancy and various parts in Chiredzi before they disappeared.
“Swarms of locusts were first spotted at Gonarezhou National Park on June 22 and 23 before they flew in different directions in and around Chiredzi,” he said.
“Our plant protection teams are on the ground now trying to locate their breeding grounds and raising awareness among local communities to be on the lookout for them. There was no damage on the crops and what they saw was the last stages of the locusts.”
The Agriculture Ministry has since dispatched teams to control the pests which pose a huge threat to the sugarcane plantations and other winter cropping activities in the Lowveld region, south of the country.
East Africa is facing the worst locust attack in decades with swarming grasshoppers posing unprecedented threat to the food supply and livelihoods of millions of people.
In February this year, eight east African countries experienced the worst outbreak in 70 years, exacerbated by climate change and war in Yemen.
Plant experts say immature swarms are the most voracious stage of locust development and they can cause a lot of damage to crops and forage.
“Had it been during the summer cropping season the damage could have been extensive on crops,” Dr Mguni said.
“We now have locust swarms surveillance and control teams on the ground. We are still hunting them down. Apart from this, we are also conducting campaigns in and around Chiredzi to raise awareness among local communities.”
Dr Mguni urged farmers in and around Chiredzi to continue scouting and to remain alert in case of another locust invasion.
East African countries are facing a second wave of desert locusts which are estimated to be 20 times worse than the plague that descended earlier on, according to a latest warning from the United Nations.
The locusts present an extremely alarming and unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods, according to the UN.
Locusts can travel up to 150km per day and experts say each adult insect can eat its own weight in food daily.
Plant protection experts say a swarm of just more than a third of a square mile can eat the same amount of food in one day as 35 000 people.
Favourable breeding conditions during plagues include moist, sandy soil, and green vegetation.
The coronavirus-induced lockdowns are said to have slowed efforts to fight the infestation in most parts of East Africa due to tighter border controls and delivery bottlenecks.
Aerial spraying is widely seen as the only effective means of controlling locusts and this could be difficult particularly when the Zimbabwean economy is going through a rough patch compounded by a drought last year.
The African migratory locusts were also reported to have been spotted in Botswana, Namibia and Zambia.
The threat of a locusts invasion is particularly a concerning one for local farmers, who are currently battling the fall armyworm and a severe shortage of rain.
Zimbabwe has on several occasions witnessed the scourge of locust plagues over the last century with the successive colonial and post – colonial governments adopting various strategies to combat successive outbreaks. Over the past decade or so, the country has been on high alert to deal with the plague of migratory locusts migrating from Mozambique and other countries in east and central Africa.
Locusts, fall armyworm, armyworm and quelea birds are some of the pests that pose a threat to crops in the country.
In Africa, the last major upsurge in the number of swarms in West Africa in 2003- 05 cost US$2.5 billion in harvest losses, according to the UN.