Malawi says farmers should not panic over fears that the country is at risk of attack of desert locusts which have devastated crops in Kenya.
Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development spokesperson Priscilla Mateyu said in a written response to our questionnaire yesterday that government is employing various strategies to ensure the country is safe from the attack.
But Farmers Union of Malawi (FUM) president Frighton Njolomole expressed fear in an interview yesterday that the locusts outbreak is likely to spread to Malawi because it is not far from the affected country.
However, Mateyu argued that the country does not have a favourable breeding ground for desert locusts which, according to international media reports, can attack over 15 kilometres of fields at a time.
She said: “The locusts are not in Malawi yet. However, we have previously been affected by red locusts which are different from desert locusts. Red locusts can breed in Malawi, but not desert locusts. Therefore, people should not panic that their crops will be attacked.”
However, Mateyu said it is possible that such locusts can migrate to Malawi because of climate change, which can create a conducive breeding ground.
She said: “As government, we need to be prepared because of climate change. So if they [locusts] attack crops in Malawi, we will be able to ensure that we manage and control the situation as we do with all other pests.”
In recent years, crops in Lake Chilwa, Nkhotakota and Chikwawa districts were attached by red locusts, but the ministry says it is closely monitoring the situation for any possible pests outbreak.
According to Mateyu, government has pesticides ready, and the ministry would embark on awareness raising exercise among farmers in the event that such locusts hit the country.
Government is currently working with its counterparts in Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania on the issue of red locusts. But officials say they will intensify work relationships with other countries if Malawi may be affected in due course.
On the other hand, Njolomole said his organisation will embark on sensitising farmers at district level and government needs to step in to provide preventive measures since Malawi is near Kenya.
He said: “It’s taking place just few countries from us and government should be on its toes on the matter. They should start planning how they would deal with this issue if it may arise. This is a huge problem.”
The massive locust swarms entered Kenya in December and have torn through pastureland in the north and centre of the country.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has estimated one swarm in Kenya at around 2 400 square kilometres, meaning it could contain up to 200 billion locusts.
The locust invasion is the biggest in Ethiopia and Somalia in 25 years, and the biggest in Kenya in 70 years, according to FAO. The UN has since urged immediate action, saying if unchecked, locust numbers could increase 500 times by June, spreading to Uganda and South Sudan, becoming a plague that will devastate crops and pasture in a region which is already one of the poorest and most vulnerable in the world.