NEMA inspects locust infested areas to ascertain impact of chemicals

The invasion of locusts in the horn of Africa has been described as the worst in 25 years by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Having come from Somalia and Ethiopia via Kenya, the first swarm of locusts entered Ugandan territory on February 9th 2020 through Amudat district.

The invasion was classified as an emergency and therefore immediate control measures were initiated. These were exempted from Environmental Impact assessment because of the nature of the emergency.

Having been on standby to monitor the situation, an Inter-ministerial task force was set up by the Office of the Prime Minister, spearheaded by the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) with support from FAO, Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF) and Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa.

MAAIF subsequently sought advice from the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) regarding the appropriate locust control methods. NEMA recommended aerial spraying using either of two pesticides; fenitrothion and Malathion ; or ground spraying using either cypermethrin, lambdacyhalothrin or chloripyrofos.

However, in accordance with provisions under the Rotterdam and the Stockholm Conventions- which Uganda is signatory to, and the National Environment Act, No. 5 of 2019, the use and application of the pesticides is restricted for only controlled spraying in order to minimize environmental hazards.

At the moment there are 2,000 UPDF soldiers, clustered in 10 groups tasked to spray the locusts; these are under the command of Major General. Sam Kavuma. Spraying operations have been conducted in the areas of Amudat, Nakapripririt, Soroti, Kaboong, Kotido, Napak and Karenga in the Karamoja region; while in the Acholi sub-region, the locusts have been sprayed in areas of Orom and Lamwo.

In March, led by the Minister of State for Environment Hon. Beatrice Anywar and Executive Director Dr. Tom Okurut, NEMA undertook an inspection in Amudat, Nakapiripirit, and Soroti Districts to ascertain compliance regarding the use of pesticides.

Initial findings from the inspection indicated that new swarms of swarms of locusts were still entering the country through Amudat; the team encountered a swarm at Komaret and observed that they were yellow in colour and fly in the direction of the wind.

Also noted was that the locusts were adults and so far had only damaged /eaten the leaves of the Balanite trees (Locally called Echoma), but much of the vegetation including the grass was intact and appeared natural.

The locusts are also very sensitive to noise. They are mobile for most of the day, but settle down during the night and, therefore, spraying has been effective at night.

Because of the hard nature of the soils, the locusts are laying eggs either on the surface or not deep in the soil (usually eggs are deposited 10-15cm into the ground). The insects have sought softer soils near riverbanks and swamps; while the females land to lay eggs, the males remain patched at the top of trees.

There was no immediate impact of the chemicals sprayed; although the team observed a reduced population of butterflies in Komaret and interestingly many birds feeding on the locusts.

Among the notable challenges faced is the inaccessible terrain, especially the hard to reach mountainous areas; superstition and insufficient information causing anxiety among the communities.

Some community members believe the locusts are a sign of a good harvest to come, a myth being propagated by some of the elderly who claim to have witnessed the last invasion in 1954. Besides, some locals get excited about the spraying exercise and therefore, even without the required protective gear, they come with in dangerous proximity of troops during the actual spray exercise.

NEMA has since tasked MAAIF to implement the following;
• Put in place a multi-sectoral monitoring team to oversee the application of the chemicals and monitor subsequent impacts;

• Develop an Environment and Social Management Plan (ESMP) to ensure that social and environmental impacts, risks are effectively managed during implementation;

• Map out GPS coordinates of areas where the spraying is taking place to ease monitoring;

• Submit periodic reports and support strategic impact monitoring that shall be undertaken three months after the first spraying;

• Mitigate any other undesirable impacts that were not foreseen earlier;

The locust invasion was an emergency causing panic in Uganda, however following the necessary interventions there are all signs to show that the menace is fully under control.

NEMA will continue conducting rapid assessment of potential impacts of the control exercise and do a risk profiling of the affected areas and periodically sample the soil, water and air for analysis and monitoring.