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News Analysis: Amid absence of desert locusts, Ethiopia grapples with other pest threats, tree locusts and African Armyworm pose major concern

Addis Abeba – The Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA) recently reported that, contrary to expectations, there has been no threat of Desert Locust invasion during the summer rainy season in Ethiopia. However, alternative pest threats to crops have been identified.

Hiwot Lemma, the leader of the Ethiopian branch of the DLCO-EA, confirmed to Addis Standard that, while there is a possibility of a tree locust outbreak, the expected desert locust infestation is absent. Hiwot mentioned that tree locusts, particularly prevalent in the Tigray, Afar, and Somali regions, persist as a matter of concern.

Hiwot further clarified the difference between desert and tree locusts, emphasizing that the two species are not interrelated. Although tree locusts can cause harm by feeding on trees—including those used for fodder—they do not induce as much devastation as desert locusts, which have the potential to decimate vast fields of crops.

In March, Addis Standard reported that tree locust swarms are threatening the livelihoods of farmers yet to recover from impacts of the two years’ war in three districts namely Seyemti Adyabo, Tahtay Adyabo and Gemehalo in Northwestern Tigray.

Meanwhile, Mebrahtom Gebrekidan Welde, Director of the Pest Control Directorate at the Tigray Regional State’s Bureau of Agriculture and Natural Resources, confirmed to Addis Standard that Tigray faces a stubborn tree locust infestation. Highlighting the enormity of the situation, he illustrated the severe aftermath caused by the dual threat of tree locusts and agricultural pests. He clarified that the problem has been compounded further due to the region’s pre-existing challenges.

Providing further insights into the extent of damage caused by the tree locust invasion, Mebrahtom explained that numerous zones across the region are in the grip of this infestation, resulting in extensive damage. Describing the tree locusts as incredibly destructive, he emphasized the devastation they have wreaked, particularly in the Shire area during the month of April. 

He stressed how the locusts have eradicated animal feed, including the indispensable reed grass used for fodder during summer months. In addition, he reported that the pests have wiped out the local vegetation and fruits, rendering the once fertile land barren.

Mebrahtom further explained that locust hatching continues to take place sporadically in Tigray. However, more concerning is the information received regarding locusts hatching in clusters in the neighboring Afar region, located a mere 17 kilometers from Tigray. This escalating situation has been brought to the attention of the federal government. Due to the proximity of Afar, there is an increasing apprehension that a significant locust migration could occur within the next month, potentially exacerbating the already dire situation.

The African Armyworm ‘Temch’

The pest situation in Ethiopia is further complicated by the presence of the African Armyworm, known locally as ‘Temch’, which has the capacity to destroy up to 100 percent of staple foods if left uncontrolled according to FAO. 

Hiwot identified the African Armyworm as a particularly destructive pest that has devastated crops across various regions including Amhara, the Southern Region, and Oromia.

The African Armyworm (Photo: FAO)

The Armyworm, as per Hiwot’s account, originates in southern Africa and embarks on a migratory route through Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, culminating its journey in Ethiopia. The onset of infestations typically occurs in January, but if conditions are not conducive, the peak activity may be delayed until February or March. 

Ideal conditions for the proliferation of the Army Worm include rainfall measuring at least five millimeters and the presence of verdant plant life, which prompt the moth to lay eggs that subsequently hatch into destructive larvae.

In response to this anticipated threat, Hiwot revealed that Ethiopia has implemented an extensive, community-based monitoring system. Initiated 15 years ago, this system allows farmers to set traps from January onward to help monitor and control the Temch population. By keeping a close watch on rainfall patterns and the health of their vegetation, farmers can estimate the likelihood of the worm’s hatching. Hiwot emphasized that this targeted strategy is paramount, given the significant damage Temch causes to crops and livelihoods.

Hiwot also remarked that the Temch epidemic typically originates in southern Ethiopia and moves northwards over several months. At present, the pest is significantly impacting the Amhara region, and is forecasted to spread to Tigray, and finally to Eritrea.

Addressing the issue of the African Armyworm in Tigray,  Mebrahtom indicated that the rampant spread of this pest across Tigray has become a pressing concern. The pest has triggered a state of distress across the region, inflicting severe damage on vital crops, such as sorghum and maize.

The federal government, along with representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stationed at the Agriculture Office, have been duly apprised of the pervasive presence of this pest in Tigray, as disclosed by Mebrahtom. 

The severity of the infestation was particularly evident in the Raya Zone of southern Tigray, though recent reports suggest a marginal decrease in pest activity. Conversely, in the central zone, primarily in the Shire area, the situation is escalating, with the pest expanding its reach.

On the topic of pest control efforts, Mebrahtom admitted that while measures have been implemented against certain pests, not all have been effectively addressed. Specifically, managing the newly arrived Temch presents a considerable challenge due to its sudden emergence in the Tigray region and a lack of sufficient resources. The lack of support from the federal government and donor organizations has resulted in an inability to provide farmers with necessary aid at the district level.

Despite these challenges, Mebrahtom shared with Addis Standard that farmers are taking their own preventive measures against the pest. This includes the use of traditional methods and manual labor. Some farmers, he noted, have taken it upon themselves to purchase and apply chemical treatments to their crops in a bid to control the pest. 

In June, FAO announced that it launched a new project aimed to harness national capacities against the incursion of African Armyworm. The project extends support to six countries in the East Africa region; Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda by establishing 2400 monitoring sites, with 400 sites in each country and provides training to over 1350 people in monitoring, early warning, and effective management techniques for African Armyworm. AS

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