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East Africa: Locusts

Volume 801: debated on Tuesday 4 February 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) food security, and (2) food scarcity, in areas affected by locusts in East Africa.

My Lords, we are deeply concerned about the devastating locust outbreak in east Africa. It is destroying crops, livelihoods and essential food supplies. Millions of people already face food insecurity and acute malnutrition caused by humanitarian disasters in the region, and more are displaced by conflict. An outbreak exacerbates these challenges. Anticipatory action is needed to reduce the risks to the upcoming agricultural seasons; UK aid is supporting the UN in controlling the outbreak. We are monitoring the situation closely and stand ready to help further.

I thank the noble Baroness for her reply. It is perhaps appropriate that a Member on these Benches is raising issues about plagues of locusts, but a humanitarian crisis is unravelling in front of us. In some parts of Ethiopia, 90% of the crops have already gone and 20 million people face no food. Last Thursday, the UN said that we need $76 million now to begin to address the problems. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to ensure immediate food aid if it is required and, in the longer term, that there is seed for next year’s crops so that people have security?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for highlighting this issue and the outbreak in his Question. He is quite right to explain its devastating impact. He asked about DfID’s work. Our existing humanitarian development programme works in the region to address food insecurity and poverty challenges. We are ready to flex in response to this crisis. He also spoke about the $76 million appeal to curb the spread of desert locusts. There is still a gap of around £40 million in that fund despite recent contributions from Germany, ECHO and others. UK aid is helping to tackle the outbreak through our funding for the UN Central Emergency Response Fund, but we are considering the case for additional support.

Will my noble friend agree to look into reports that one of the reasons for the re-emergence of massive locust plagues in this part of the world is that, under the banner of agroecology, agencies and non-governmental organisations have increasingly advised farmers not to use pesticides when that is a sensible use of technology?

My Lords, we are clear that the best way to deal with this outbreak is through pesticides. The primary method of controlling the swarms is through vehicle-mounted and aerial sprayers. That is what we will continue to advise and what the FAO, which is leading on the response, recommends as the best option.

My Lords, I readily recognise the superior intelligence of the right reverend Prelates in the matter of locusts and plagues. I cannot help thinking of all that is happening to combat the coronavirus epidemic, which has activated responses from all the continents of the earth, and contrasting that with foreseeable and regular outbreaks of the pestilence that we have recently seen television shots of—whatever we ascribe as the causes of all this. Many of us have lived in countries where that kind of thing happens and therefore cannot see them other than from the perspective of the people affected. When will the world wake up to the need to address, on behalf of the voiceless, as much of its energy and heartwarming sympathy to areas like this as it does to the other instance—without wanting to simplify or compare them in an inappropriate way? Is it not time for our Government, speaking perhaps for the global community, to increase levels of awareness and response?

My Lords, we have locust swarms on a yearly basis, but this is a larger swarm than has been seen in decades. With the swarm increasing twentyfold over each breeding season and with planting activities for crops taking place, there is a need to undertake effective control measures right now. I certainly agree with the noble Lord that we need to address the global challenges we face, and I point him towards the UK hosting COP 26, which will be a great opportunity for the UK to show our world-leading efforts to get to net zero by 2050 and to address the impacts of climate change.

My Lords, the UN FAO states that Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are dealing with desert locust swarms of unprecedented size and destructive potential. They threaten to engulf the whole east African region, with South Sudan and Uganda also at risk. Will the Government investigate the potential linkage of the massive growth of desert locust swarms to unusual climate change conditions? Will they also vigorously support the UN programmes of both pest control and livelihood protection, with the added help of advanced drone technology where needed?

My Lords, we will absolutely support the response to this. One of the main ways in which we are dealing with it is by helping with surveillance—making sure that through DfID support we look at the regional climate so that we can predict these things better. We act particularly through control methods. I mentioned the UN FAO through CERF, which helps with the spraying of pesticides; the UK is the highest donor. I agree completely with the noble Lord that we have to ensure that our humanitarian programmes in the region are sufficiently flexible. We have in place significant programmes there with partners such as the World Food Programme and UNICEF, which are ready to flex and respond to the outbreak.