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New UK support to tackle devastating locust swarms in Africa and Asia

Anne-Marie Trevelyan

New UK-aid support will be used to tackle this year’s unprecedented locust outbreaks across Africa and Asia, where millions of insects are destroying thousands of hectares of crops.

With locust swarms growing 20 times larger since March 2020, International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan today announced £18 million of new UK aid in response to the crisis during a visit to British company Micron Group, on the Isle of Wight, which supplies pesticide sprayers to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The impact of the plague of insects across Africa and Asia has been made worse by coronavirus, with vulnerable communities facing dwindling food supplies alongside the pandemic.

Funded by UK aid, the FAO is using Micron Group’s pesticide sprayers across Africa and Asia. Swarms of millions of insects can cover areas up to 100 square miles or more and these sprayers are able to cover large areas with pesticide.

Since January this year, the FAO has successfully controlled over 600,000 hectares of land, saved 1.2m tons crops with a value of $372 million and eradicated over 400 million locusts in 10 countries in East Africa.

Of the new funding announced today, £17 million will go to the FAO’s emergency appeal to help to control the increase of locusts across East Africa, Yemen and South West Asia, as well as reduce the risk of swarms spreading into the Sahel.

The UK will also provide up to £1million to improve early warning and forecasting systems for desert locusts, so that countries can prepare for their arrival. This support, in collaboration with the University of Cambridge and weather data from the UK Met Office, will help the FAO to target locust breeding sites and control outbreaks before they’re able to affect crucial crops and pastures.

The World Bank estimates that the cost of supporting farmers and producers affected by locusts in East Africa and Yemen alone could reach $8.5bn by the end of 2020. 

Speaking during the visit, International Development Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said:

“Vulnerable communities are on the brink of starvation because of the biggest locust outbreak in decades, made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

“British expertise is playing an important role in equipping companies with the right tools to combat the swarms and track where they will go next.

“But unless other countries also step up and act now, this crisis will spread and cause even more devastation.”

The new funding follows £8 million provided by the UK earlier this year to the FAO appeal. A supercomputer funded by UK aid is also helping countries in East Africa to track the insects’ movements around the continent.

During the visit, the International Development Secretary met with the directors from Micron Group to discuss how their sprayers have been key to tackling locusts in highly affected areas across the world. She also saw how the sprayers are assembled at their Isle of Wight factory and took part in a demonstration on how they work in the field.

Anthony Outlaw, Micron Group Operations Manager, said:

“Micron are proud to support the world on the fight against locusts through supplying cutting-edge equipment for the FAO. We have continued to work tirelessly throughout the pandemic to meet this demand. The whole team understand the importance of tackling this outbreak and the impact on food security it has for millions of people.”

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