WATCH | African migratory locust outbreak threatens farmers’ livelihoods in Zimbabwe

Swarms of African migratory locusts are tearing through Zimbabwe's southeastern lowveld region threatening farmers’ livelihoods and food production, as the country battles food insecurity and a coronavirus pandemic.

The locust outbreak, fuelled by unseasonably heavy rains in the region, is now posing a threat to sugarcane plantations, winter crops and vegetation.

“Tackling swarms of locusts is challenging because they are unpredictable in their movements and it’s hard to contain their spread. But we are working on effective control methods using chemical insecticides,” said Shingirayi Nyamutukwa, an entomologist in the government’s department of plant quarantine and the Plant Protection Services Institute.

“But managing the outbreaks by spraying them with insecticide is proving to be a challenge because farmers are harvesting and eating the locusts. This is creating a conflict because spraying the locusts would make them toxic, while the farmers view the locusts as food.”

The locust outbreak comes as nearly 4.3 million people in rural Zimbabwe face severe food insecurity. Emmanuel Masosota, a farmer living in Malilangwe in the southeastern lowveld — the area where the video above was shot — is worried about losing his winter crops.

“I have 5ha of sugar beans, maize and wheat. Once the swarm of locusts arrive on a farm, they eat everything and it’s just devastating. Most of the farmers in this region are sugarcane farmers. If the locusts destroy our crop that will be a huge blow because we rely on it for food and income. The outbreak is not only threatening our food source but it is also exposing us to a famine,” said Masosota.

Locusts are destructive: each one can consume its own weight in food in a single day and swarms can fly 100km a day. “The danger is African migratory locusts have a continuous reproductive and development rate. As a government department we are taking measures to control the outbreak but Zimbabwe is also facing a fuel crisis and this makes it difficult to travel around the country to monitor the insects’ movements and growth,” said Nyamutukwa.

Farming communities are also taking measures to protect their food source by making loud noises to ward off locusts, while most farmers have resorted to eating the insects.

“Locusts have long been considered a delicacy in Zimbabwe, so why not eat them as a control method?” said a farmer in Malilangwe.

African migratory locust outbreaks have also been reported in Botswana, Namibia and Zambia.

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