UN warns of worsening food insecurity in Afghanistan due to Moroccan locust outbreak

The UN has recently warned of worsening food insecurity next year in Afghanistan amid a widespread outbreak of Moroccan locust in March that destroyed large corps in the northern and northeastern provinces, the country’s wheat basket.

Hundreds of thousands of locusts amassed on wheat fields in the provinces of Badakhshan, Badghis, Baghlan, Balkh, Kunduz, Samangan, Sar-e-Pul, and Takhar under the helpless gaze of farmers who are already affected by the food crisis since the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, a full outbreak of locusts this year “could destroy up to 1.2 million metric tonnes of wheat, or a quarter of the total annual harvest.”

“The reports of Moroccan Locust outbreak in Afghanistan’s wheat basket is a huge concern.” Said Richard Trenchard, the UN FAO Representative in Afghanistan, in a report on May 10. “The Moroccan locust eats more than 150 species of plants, including tree crops, pastures, and 50 food crops, all of which grow in Afghanistan. It represents an enormous threat to farmers, communities, and the entire country.”

Afghanistan saw a large-scale outbreak of locusts in March for the first time in two decades.

The last two big outbreaks, according to the UN FAO report, were two and four decades ago which cost the country an estimated 8 and 25 percent of its total annual wheat production.

“Harvest forecasts this year are the best we have seen for the last three years – but this outbreak threatens to destroy all these recent gains and dramatically worsen the food insecurity situation later this year and into next year,” Trenchard asserted in the report.

Trenchard added that a full outbreak this year could result in crop losses ranging from 700 000 to 1.2 million metric tonnes of wheat – up to a quarter of the total annual harvest which means between USD 280 million and USD 480 million in economic loss.

Afghanistan’s North and Northeast regions, which are prone to Moroccan locust outbreaks, create a conducive environment for locusts to hatch and swarm.

“In these parts of Afghanistan, Moroccan Locusts lay eggs between May and June, depending on environmental conditions, in hilly and rangeland areas. The young locusts hatch from the egg pods the following year in late March and start feeding on surrounding grasses. This year the hatching started earlier than usual.” The UN FAO report underscored.

The UN FAO officials in Afghanistan said thousands of people in communities across the affected provinces have been working tirelessly to kill the hopper bands before they become adults and begin to swarm. 

“We’ve used our cash-for-work methodology to put money into the pockets of farmers most at risk while accelerating mechanical control in communities across the North and Northeast regions,” said a UN representative.

“We have also seen a strong, rapid, and encouraging response from the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock, although their capacity to respond is heavily constrained by a lack of resources.”

Since the Taliban takeover, the country’s economy has crumbled and a looming humanitarian crisis is threatening approximately 28.8 million people suffering from acute poverty and heightened food insecurity.