While the world fights to slow the spread of COVID-19, the worst pandemic experienced in a century, countries in South
Asia are simultaneously responding to plagues of locusts, cyclones and a deadly livestock disease, all of which threaten
to worsen hunger and the livelihoods of millions of people, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
(FAO) warned today.
Swarms of Desert Locust, which originated in Africa, have moved swiftly into west Asia attacking vegetation in parts of
Iran and Pakistan, and are now threatening crops in India. These swarms are the worst experienced in more than a
Fall armyworm, a maize-destroying pest that migrated to Asia from Africa in 2018, has also spread across the continent
and has arrived in Australia.
Meanwhile, African swine fever (ASF) has re-emerged in the Asia-Pacific region, and for the first time been detected in
India. ASF, which ravaged pig production in China in 2018 and 2019, has also been discovered for the first time in the
Pacific subregion, with cases confirmed in Papua New Guinea.
Cyclones such as Amphan and Vongfong have added to the damage in some of the countries already overstretched by their
responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.Multiple challenges for an already challenged region
While the lockdowns of countries across the region in response to COVID-19 have taken their toll on the economies, lives
and livelihoods of millions of people, the convergence of these plant pests, severe storms and animal diseases will only
add to the suffering.
“We cannot and must not under-estimate the damage to lives and livelihoods that the convergence of these crises will
have on food security and hunger in this part of the world, already home to most of its undernourished people,” said
Jong-Jin Kim, FAO Deputy Regional Representative and Head of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. “While we
continue the battle to save lives and contain the spread of COVID-19, we must now fight a war that has multiple fronts
and various enemies here in the Asia-Pacific region,” Kim added.
African swine fever – Not dangerous to humans but deadly for pigs and financially ruining for people who rear them
African swine fever (ASF) has become an enormous concern in Asia with some 5,000 outbreaks across the region and more
recently into the Pacific subregion. The Asia-Pacific region accounts for more than 50 percent of the world’s pig
production (2018 figures according to FAO STAT) and pork is one of the major sources of animal protein.
The disease, deadly to pigs but not harmful to humans, resulted in the deaths and culling of millions of pigs in China,
the country that was originally hardest hit in 2018 and 2019. This year, for the first time, ASF was discovered in
India. Again, authorities are trying to respond to the outbreak while simultaneously responding to COVID-19 and the
threat of locusts.Desert Locust – world’s most destructive pest
Desert Locusts can devour huge amounts of vegetation, including wild plants, trees and grasslands, but they also attack
vegetable crops and fruit trees.
A single swarm of Desert Locust can cover an entire square kilometer and contain some 80 million insects. FAO experts
estimate the number of locusts could grow twenty-fold in the upcoming rainy season in South Asia unless extra measures
to counter the swarms are put in place. FAO is tracking
the movements across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.Fall armyworm marches on across Asia
In many countries affected by Fall armyworm (FAW), COVID-19 lockdowns have resulted in pest management activities being
reduced or ceased entirely. FAO has published a guidance note
for responding to outbreaks of FAW during the simultaneous challenges faced by countries’ responses to COVID-19
Farmers need significant support to manage FAW sustainably in their cropping systems through Integrated Pest Management
(IPM) activities. FAO has launched a Global Action for FAW Control
as a response to the international threat that FAW is posing for food security and the livelihoods of millions of
smallholder farmers.FAO continues to support member nations in Asia and the Pacific
“FAO continues to support our member countries in response to these and other threats in these very challenging times,”
said Kim. “Together we’ll get through this, for our own sake, and for the sake of future generations.”