Scientists have described as wrong the Ministry of Food and Agriculture’s strategy to prevent a possible invasion by the destructive Dessert Locust pest.
The locusts are currently causing vast devastation of crop fields in Ethiopia, Kenya and other East African countries. Ethiopia and Somalia where its caused up to 100% crop failure in some areas, are facing the worst infestation in 25 years, whilst Kenya is facing the worst impact in 70 years.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned the invasion could grow by 500 times by June and put millions across Africa at the risk of food insecurity.
The organisation last week issued an alert warning the pests are now headed towards West Africa and called on authorities to step prevention efforts.
Head of the Pests, Crop and Disease Division of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA), Ebenezer Aboagye has been speaking about Ghana’s preparedness. He says they will rely on pesticides for fighting the destructive Fall Armyworm pests to deal with the Dessert Locusts if an invasion happens. Fall Armyworm pests destroyed vast farm fields three years ago and government has since been stockpiling chemicals at the beginning of every farming season to deal with them.
“The best thing to control the Desert Locusts is pesticides. We are even lucky we are procuring pesticides for the Fall Army worm we have in Ghana here. The process is ongoing and almost complete. So, in case we have Dessert Locusts instead of Fall Armyworm, we can quickly divert the pesticides to mop them out. What we bought for the Fall Armyworm is already here. We have many stocks…,” he told Joy News’ Daniel Dadzie.
But Dr. Michael Osae who is President of the Entomological Society of Ghana says the approach is wrong because chemicals for fighting Fall Armyworm pests cannot deal with Dessert Locusts.
“That is not the right strategy. I know the Fall Armyworm pesticides. They cannot certainly deal with the Fall Armyworm pests” he told Joy News.
“Fall Armyworm, we use biorational pesticides… They are fungi and plant-based products. Insect must eat to be affected. What I am sure of is that the products for Fall Armyworm are not effective against Dessert Locusts,” Dr. Osae added.
He says government’s emergency preparedness plan should rather aim at importing more potent pesticides that can specifically deal with the Dessert Locusts.
“As a country, we need to stock some of these pesticides. So that when they come, you are able to deal with the initial population. But if you allow them to settle, then you will have a problem,” Dr. Osae Society who is also Director of the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agricultural Research Institute (BNARI) told Joy News. “Once there is an outbreak, pesticides is the only way. Ground spraying may not even help. A plague may be as wide as 10 football fields. And you can’t use ground spraying. You have to use planes to do aerial spraying. It has its consequence,” he added.
He warns the pests can cause vast negative impact on the nation’s food security. “We should be very worried about the dessert locusts because they are very devastating. They eat anything in their way. And they can cause serious impact as far as food security is concerned in the country. Everything shows they can get here and we should be very worried,” the leader of the Entomological Society of Ghana added.
“The consequence; we will lose our foods, Planting for Food and Jobs and Planting for Export and Rural Development will be affected. Our efforts towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of zero hunger will be derailed,” he said.
The Dessert Locusts feed on all crops including vegetables and cereals. The last time there was a major outbreak of the Dessert Locusts in Africa was between 2003 and 2005. Spreading from East Africa, it got as far as Burkina Faso but Ghana did not record an invasion. Dr. Osae says there is no guarantee Ghana will be lucky this time around.
“This outbreak is more serious than what happened in 2003 to 2005. Considering the conditions under which this plague is developing, the likelihood of it getting to Ghana is very high, much higher.”
“Populations are building up in East Africa. Very soon, in East Africa, rains will go down. Our rainy season will start. So, wind blows them down south and they come here and our rain starts and they have fertile grounds for reproduction.”
“You know, they need soft soil to lay their eggs in. And if there is food, all they do is mate, eat and lay eggs. That’s all they will be doing. And so we are at a risk as a country,” he added.
A letter from the Director of the Plant Protection and Regulatory Services Directorate of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture Dr. Felicia Ansah Amprofi to sector officers urged “all directors to strengthen detection surveillance by monitoring the borders and cropping fields to ensure early detection of the new pest in your district to prevent this plant pest from invading the nation.”
She warned the pests can “pose serious threat to agricultural production areas of the subregion.” “This could result in potential adverse impacts on the agricultural seasonal yields and local economies, affecting food security and livelihoods of the populations in the countries concerned,” the MOFA official added.
Watch Dr. Michael Osae’s interview here