Tajikistan has been battling a locust invasion over the past few weeks, but officials say control measures and assistance from the donor community will allow them to combat the outbreak.
“This year the locust invasion started in many parts of the country one month earlier than usual. It started on 14 March in the south, in areas bordering Afghanistan – in 12 districts,” Usarbek Mustafakulov, head of the laboratory unit at the Tajik Research Institute of Protection & Quarantine of Plants, told IRIN on 28 April from the Tajik capital, Dushanbe.
Experts, including Mustafakulov, say it started early due to unusually warm spring weather.
“We’ve been using pesticides to clear areas affected by the current locust invasion since 18 March. Over 180,000 hectares have been assessed for the risk of locust infestation and, based on that, it is necessary to treat 152,000 hectares,” Mustafakulov said.
“In the south, the locusts are already reaching stage five of their development – when they start developing wings and can easily travel longer distances… So all our forces now are mobilised,” he said.
The authorities have managed to clear 67,000 hectares of locusts using pesticides so far, but they do not have enough resources to contain the outbreak and clear infested areas, according to Mustafakulov.
The government has resources for about 100,000 hectares, but “for the remaining 50,000 hectares there are no funds and therefore the authorities have appealed to donor organisations, including the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), for assistance,” he said.
To address the issue, John Holmes, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, on 24 April allocated nearly half a million US dollars from the donor-funded Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to control the outbreak, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement.
“These funds are absolutely crucial to ensure that we can head this off before the infestation spreads any further. Combined with the harshest winter for 25 years, increasing food prices and a drought that is now developing, a locust infestation of the size predicted would be more than government structures and household coping mechanisms could bear”, said Gabriella Waaijman, OCHA’s regional disaster response adviser for Central Asia.
Shukhrat Igamberdiev, FAO programme officer in Dushanbe, told IRIN they had received $410,163 – the amount FAO requested from the donor community to help the Tajik government contain the outbreak.
“This will enable the procurement of about 15,000 litres of pesticide, although the exact amount will depend on the prices the suppliers give us,” he said.
The money will also cover special clothing and pesticide spraying equipment, staff training, the monitoring of the project and salaries for trainers, Igamberdiev said.
“The measures being taken and the assistance provided should be sufficient to stave off the locust invasion this year,” Igamberdiev said.
The Ministry of Agriculture had allocated 4.5 million Tajik somonis (about US$1.3 million) for anti-locust measures this year, he said. “However, those funds were not sufficient because this year the area affected was double what it was last year,” he explained.
“This happened because some areas remained untreated last year and some areas were treated with pesticides several times as there were recurrent locust invasions from Afghanistan,” Igamberdiev said.
At the same time, FAO is developing a regional project aimed at the sustainability of locust control efforts and programmes in Central Asia. “One of the main aims of the project is to improve cooperation among neighbouring countries – Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and other countries,” Igamberdiev said.
“So the monitoring and control of locust invasions will improve and will be coordinated, which is one of the problems in the timely response and control of locust outbreaks,” he said.
Locust control in Central Asia is also a regional issue, as infestations in Tajikistan come from Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and locusts from Tajikistan infest these countries. The CERF allocation will help reduce the risk of further outbreaks by contributing to the procurement and delivery of pesticides, enabling surveys of the infested areas, and mobilising, training, and raising awareness among local communities, according to OCHA.
Prior to Tajikistan’s independence in 1991, two mobile locust control teams operated in the region and also provided services to neighbouring Afghanistan, Tajik officials said. Following the break-up of the Soviet Union, locust control measures have slipped back.