In midst of pandemic, East Africa braces for another locust invasion

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 22, 2020 Locusts swarm from ground vegetation as people approach at Lerata village, near Archers Post in Samburu county, approximately 300 kilomters (186 miles) north of Kenyan capital, Nairobi. (AFP)
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Updated 19 June 2020

In midst of pandemic, East Africa braces for another locust invasion

  • Spurred by favorable weather conditions, the migratory pests have descended on East Africa in record numbers since late 2019
  • In Ethiopia between January and April, locusts destroyed 1.3 million hectares of grazing land

NAIROBI: East Africa is bracing for a third outbreak of desert locusts, with billions of the destructive insects about to hatch and threaten food supplies in a region already reeling from damaging rains and the coronavirus pandemic.
Spurred by favorable weather conditions, the migratory pests have descended on East Africa in record numbers since late 2019 and another wave is about to take to the skies despite the concerted use of pesticides.
“Tens of thousands of hectares of cropland and pasture have already been damaged across the Horn and East Africa,” the International Rescue Committee said in a report this month, noting even a small swarm could devour the same amount of food in a day as approximately 35,000 people.
In Ethiopia between January and April, locusts destroyed 1.3 million hectares of grazing land and nearly 200,000 hectares of crops, resulting in the loss of 350,000 tons of cereals, IGAD, the East Africa regional organization, said in a June report.
But these initial estimates — corresponding to the first and second locust waves — do not fully capture the extent of damage as field surveys have been hindered by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Until we get extended figures, I would just say Ethiopia was definitely the most affected in terms of croplands, then Somalia,” says Kenneth Kemucie Mwangi from ICPAC, the climate monitoring program of IGAD.
Somalia, which like Kenya experienced heavy rains and flooding in recent months that left scores dead, had already declared a “national emergency” against the locust scourge in February.
So far East African neighbors Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi have been spared the insects, which travel in huge swarms billions of insects strong, and can migrate 150 kilometers (90 miles) in a single day.

The World Bank in May approved a $500 million (445 million euro) program to help countries vulnerable to hunger in East Africa fight the pests eating their way across the region.
Pesticide spraying operations have been underway since February, helping wipe out staggering numbers of the insects capable of multiplying their numbers 20-fold every three months.
“About 400,000 hectares were controlled in the region between January and mid May. We estimate that 400 billion locusts have been exterminated,” says Cyril Ferrand, a Nairobi-based expert with the FAO.
“We can’t estimate the total population because we don’t have access to certain areas, especially in Somalia. But we know that it’s been seriously reduced.”
In Kenya, where swarms blotted out the sky for miles in recent months, locusts have retreated to just three semi-arid counties in the country’s far north.
Fortunately too, forecasts of dire hunger did not materialize as the first swarm to arrive from Yemen in 2019 spared the end-of-year harvest, as the crops were already too mature.
The insects, which can eat their body weight in food in a single day, strip the leaves but not seeds.
“We have not seen signs of a large scale impact on food security,” says Lark Walters of the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, a US-funded food security monitoring organization.
However that doesn’t mean the impact hasn’t been keenly felt on among vulnerable communities where access to food is fragile, and any shocks can cause immense hardship, he said.
East Africa has endured a string of disasters of near-Biblical proportions in 2020: surging rain and devastating floods, locusts and then amid it all — a viral pandemic.
“Somali pastoralist communities have had three years of drought, then the locusts, now Covid, which will prevent them from exporting their livestock,” said Ferrand of the FAO.
“For them it’s disaster after disaster, so their resilience is already very low. The slightest shock can push them into extreme poverty.”
These shocks can ripple too through the wider economy, where coronavirus lockdowns and border closures have already dragged on trade and caused financial hardship.
On June 11, the credit rating agency Fitch Ratings noted that while coronavirus was the primary factor affecting growth “the ongoing desert locust invasion represents significant downside risk to East Africa’s macroeconomic stability.”
The looming third wave still lies as eggs beneath the soil, but is predicted to hatch in coming weeks, just as farmers take to the fields.
“We have concerns for the June-July harvest,” said Waters.
Ethiopia’s croplands, most notably in the north, where 90 percent of its cereal harvest is planted, is at particularly high risk, he added.
Warmer weather, more rain and wind gusts are expected to direct the insects northwards, deep into the Horn of Africa and as far as Yemen, areas that will become more conducive to their reproduction in the coming months.


Exclusive: St. Kitts & Nevis PM aims to ‘cement ties with the Middle East’

Updated 14 August 2020

Exclusive: St. Kitts & Nevis PM aims to ‘cement ties with the Middle East’

  • Prime Minister Timothy Harris emphasizes ‘enduring appeal’ of Saint Kitts and Nevis amid a global pandemic
  • Dual-island nation has announced a discount in the amount needed to secure citizenship for a limited period

DUBAI: After the turmoil and tedium of the last few months, a distant island getaway is probably what tops most people’s dreams. One Caribbean destination, surrounded by sparkling sand and turquoise waters, is intent on using its natural landscapes to nurse people back to normality — and build commercial bridges to the Middle East in the process.

In an interview via Zoom with Arab News, Prime Minister Timothy Harris noted with satisfaction that his country was home to a number of individuals from the Middle East, including the GCC countries. But his ambitions are clearly much bigger than that.

Harris, who was re-elected to a second term as prime minister of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis on June 5, says he will continue to deepen the dual-island nation’s relations with the GCC region.

“We intend to open an embassy soon in the UAE,” he told Arab News. “This will further cement our ties to the Middle East region and to the UAE specifically.”

With their relative affluence and large expatriate populations, GCC countries constitute a key part of the catchment area of the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) program of St. Kitts and Nevis.

“What the CBI program offers applicants is the advantage of mobility,” said Harris, adding: “In the context of St. Kitts and Nevis, it also offers citizenship in a nation that is democratic, peaceful and safe.”

(Full Arab News interview with Prime Minister Timothy Harris)

His government is also counting on efficient processing of citizenship applications to help it stand out in a crowded field.

Amid the coronavirus disease pandemic, some, particularly for those hailing from troubled countries in the Middle East, see a silver lining: A discount on the citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis.

Harris has announced a time-limited reduction in the contribution required to secure citizenship. The government of St. Kitts and Nevis has decided to temporarily reduce the family minimum contribution by $45,000 to $150,000. However, the minimum contribution for a single applicant remains at $150,000.

Basseterre, capital of St. Kitts and Nevis. (Supplied)
A single applicant seeking economic citizenship normally contributes at least $150,000, while the cost for a family of up to four comes to $195,000. But from July 7 until the end of this year, families of up to four people will be able to secure citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis at the discounted rate.
The decision was influenced by the global fallout of the COVID-19 crisis and the efforts of the Harris government to find creative ways to stabilize the economy and put it back on the path to the growth rates it had enjoyed over five years preceding the pandemic.

Harris is upfront about his objectives. “This limited-time offer will provide the resources to help us successfully fight COVID-19 and enhance the safety nets for those who have lost their jobs or income as a consequence," he said.

(St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris talking about his country's COVID-19 response)

“The CBI program is crucial to our growth and development. The effects of COVID-19 have also destabilized our economy. Without the CBI program we would have been in serious danger.”

The St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program grants citizenship to individuals of high net worth and their families, who get visa-free access to 156 countries, including EU member states and the UK.

Migrate World Ltd is one of the authorized representatives for the CBI program for the Middle East and Africa. Speaking to Arab News in May, Moe Alhaj, CEO of Migrate World Ltd, said: “There’s been a notable increase — of around 40 percent — in applicants from the Arab world during the pandemic.

“The individuals that the program caters to in the Middle East are largely from Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia.” The CBI program does not accept applicants from Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea.

(St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris talking about his country's citizenship program)

During the pandemic, CBI officials say, the program has witnessed a 40 percent increase in applicants from families hailing from the Arab world. Arab News could not independently verify the figure.

What is undeniable is that while the coronavirus crisis continues to ravage countries across the globe, particularly those in North America, the Caribbean region has largely been spared high caseloads.

The total population of residents in the Caribbean is just under 45 million. As of July 27, the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections stood at 91,907. The nations with the highest number of cases are the Dominican Republic with 64,156; French Guiana with 7,332; Haiti with 7,315 cases and Puerto Rico with 5,416. 

Aerial view of Black Rocks Beach on St. Kitts. (Supplied)

St. Kitts and Nevis had one of the lowest numbers. By May 19 all of the 16 cases on its two islands had recovered, although one new case was announced on July 4. There have been no deaths. The islands went into lockdown on March 31 when just eight cases had been declared. It was then extended until April 18 and then again to April 25.

“We began an aggressive public education campaign in our schools and workplaces, security forces and health-care workers early on,” Harris told Arab News. “As cases rose, we were at a high level of alertness and citizens and residents complied, so we were able to stop the spread efficiently.”

The CBI program was launched in St. Kitts and Nevis in 1984 as a way to assist the island’s economy, which had suffered due to the collapse of the sugar industry, and to stimulate foreign direct investment inflows.



- 53,821 = Population of St. Kitts & Nevis

- 92.5% African

- 3% Mixed

- 2.1% White

- 1.5% East Indian

“Clearly, size does matter and being a small nation state with limited resources, we had to find unique ways of bringing in investment that would help the country thrive from year to year,” Harris told Arab News.

“While COVID-19 has placed the world under enormous strain, St. Kitts and Nevis’s record to date of zero hospitalizations and zero fatalities from the disease underlines the character and enduring appeal of our great country.”

With alluring beaches, laid back Caribbean lifestyle and faraway location, the offer is hard to refuse — if one’s pockets are deep enough.


Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor