How desert locust invasion could hurt Uganda’s economy - National | NTV

How desert locust invasion could hurt Uganda’s economy

By Ismail Musa Ladu

Tuesday February 18, 2020


Since a swarm of desert locusts found their way into Uganda through Karamoja from Kenya, Mr George Kirabira has been worried.

Despite the 485 kilometre distance between Nakaseke and Karamoja sub-region Mr Kirabira, a farmer in Nakaseke fears for the worst.

For an insect that can cover up to 150 kilometres per day while ravaging the vegetation, essentially means no farmer is safe.

When interviewed for this article last week, Mr Kirabira told Prosper Magazine: “No individual farmer in this country whether commercial or subsistence, including those engaged in livestock farming, has the potential to deal with desert locust invasion.”

He continued: “These insects can cause havoc to the vegetation, reducing anything green into a desolate heap within hours. This is bad news for any farmer, including those in the cattle corridors.”

One tonne of desert locusts – highly destructive agricultural pests, can eat an equivalent of food meant to feed 2,500 people within a space of 12 to 24hours. According to vegetation experts, these fast-breeding locusts can ravage no less than 200 tonnes of vegetation in a space of 24 hours.

By the end of last week, no damages on the vegetation were reported, but that should not mean all is well.

Economists, trade analysts and food security experts interviewed for this article agree that no matter what happens, the economy will pay the price in one way or the other.

According to Dr Fred Muhumuza of the Makerere School of Economics, the cracks are beginning to show just days after the desert locusts entered the country.

He said: “The national budget is already being stretched further. Other budgets are being cut or diverted to deal with this problem.”

He continued: “Shs15billion had to be made available yet this was not planned for in the national budget or anticipated. This does not signal prudent planning and is not good for the economy that is reliant on agriculture.”

Such lack of unpreparedness, straining the national budget further is exemplified by the government’s reactive rather than proactive nature in dealing with emergencies. Daily Monitor online reported on Wednesday last week that government has secured another Shs7 billion for the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries to combat the locust invasion.

It had earlier earmarked Shs15 billion which the ministry said has already been spent three days after the locust invasion was confirmed in the country.

Mr Steven Twibejuka, the commissioner crop protection in the Ministry of Agriculture, said Shs11b out of Shs15b was paid as subscription fee to the Desert Locust Control Organisation for East Africa (DLCO-EA), a regional locusts control body, something the government had for long ignored to do until this invasion happened.

The organisation, which boosts of aircraft for aerial spraying of the desert locust, had earlier warned that they will offer no support to Uganda because it has not been paying these fees which have since accumulated to Shs18b.

Although according to the government there is no clear evidence yet to suggest that the locust invasion has ravaged vegetation including crops, that shouldn’t mean that the country is out of the woods.

“It will be foolhardy to conclude that because nothing damaging has happened to the vegetation in the Karamoja sub-region, therefore, all will be well. These insects are moving towards Teso sub-region where the environment is greener; who knows what could happen as it continues moving towards greener vegetation around the country?” Dr Muhumuza queried.

He continued: “These developments are scary, it could lead to food prices going up, people may go into panic mode, resulting into panic buying, and paving way for food-driven inflation, which is one of the hardest to deal with considering its immediate implication on the economy.

He was also of the view that the reactive nature in which the invasion of the desert locust is being handled may not send proper signals to the private sector players who hate to operate in uncertainty.

The executive director of Uganda National Association of Community and Occupational Health (UNACOH) Dr Deogratius Ssekimpi described the desert locust attack as an epidemic. He said the desert locusts are like the current Corona Virus that the Chinese government is battling with.

They have the potential to cause massive damage before they are contained, warning that efforts to stop them from spreading and laying eggs wherever they invade must be stepped up or else the economy will soon or later pay the price. This is because desert locusts can ravage anything green—including cash crops and traditional crops. Before such havoc is wrecked on the vegetation, he advised that breeding ground must also be sprayed.

Mr Africa Kiiza, an expert in Trade policy and development, noted that there will be a toll on the economy considering that wherever this invasion happened in East Africa such as in Kenya, billions of shillings were spent on getting rid of the insects.

International assessment
In such an agriculture-dependent area, destruction of a large number of crops risks material negative economic implications, according to Moody’s, an international rating agency.

The report by the international rating agency issued last week on Friday quoted the vice president at Moody’s, Kelvin Dalrymple, as saying: “Uganda and Tanzania are the latest East African economies that are being affected by locust swarms.

He continued: “For months, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia have been ravaged by locust swarms which have decimated crops and risk-reducing economic growth, creating inflationary pressures, and increasing food insecurity in the agriculture-dependent East African region.”

The report further indicated that In Uganda and East Africa in general, subsistence agriculture and high reliance on unprocessed food and fresh-food markets means the infestation is particularly damaging. Agriculture contributes around one-third of GDP in East Africa and is responsible for more than 65 per cent of employment in all East African countries with the exception of Kenya.

“Low per-capita incomes in East Africa, coupled with high-income inequality and high poverty levels, make these countries vulnerable and less able to absorb shocks,” said Dalrymple.