Locusts return to Oman as attention turned to coronavirus

Farmers are asking the government to act before locusts destroy their crops

Swarms of locusts land and feed on shea trees, which are a big source of food and income for local farmers, in Otuke on February 17, 2020. Locust swarms have slowly been arriving into northern Uganda from neighbouring Kenya, threatening the livelihoods of local farmers and cattle herders. Government forces have been mapping out the swarms and spraying them with insecticides, however the real worry will be if these swarms lay eggs that will eventually hatch and spread. / AFP / SUMY SADURNI
Powered by automated translation

Swarms of locusts are making a comeback in Oman as government attention has diverted to the coronavirus outbreak, farmers say.

Locusts devastated crops across the Gulf and eastern Africa at the beginning of this year but numbers dramatically dropped in March after the government embarked on a pesticide spraying programme.

But in the last ten days, farmers in Al Buraimi, a town that borders the United Arab Emirates, have spotted the creatures once more and want the government to recommence spraying before it is too late for their crops.

“They are coming back to eat our crops. They were here two months ago but the government sprayed and they died,” said Hamood Al Kaabi, 31, a farmer in Al Buraimi.

“I think because of this pandemic, the government is now concentrating on infected people and not locusts.”

Sightline with Tim Marshall: Locusts

Sightline with Tim Marshall: Locusts

Oman’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries had acted quickly against a larger-than-usual locust invasion this year, spraying pesticides in most parts of Oman from specially-designed aircraft. The action did not entirely eradicate the pests but farmers say the remnants did not cause a problem, until the coronavirus began to take hold.

“I think the survivors started breeding slowly and now they are back. Now we are fighting two battles. Covid-19 threatening our health and the locusts threatening our livelihoods,” Suleiman Al Mleihi, 38, a farmer in Mahda, another town close to the United Arab Emirates border, said.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation said on Monday that it had noted the likelihood of second-generation adult groups and some small swarms forming in the northern region and hopper groups continuing in Al Buraimi, but the overall number of the creatures would decline as the weather becomes drier and summer approaches.

Omani farmers working along the border with the UAE mainly grow carrots, melons, limes, cucumber, tomatoes, potatoes and onions. They say trade has continued to be lucrative across the border even as cases of Covid-19 in both nations grew and lockdowns were instituted.

“The two governments of Oman and the UAE protect our trades by allowing food to cross the borders. So Covid-19 is not stopping our crops from being exported by road to the UAE. But it looks like the locusts are going to do that,” Mr Kaabi explained.

A farmer in Al Wajajah, an Omani town close to the UAE’s Sharjah border, said he had already notified the Omani Ministry of Agriculture in Muscat by phone but was asked to wait until the lockdown is lifted.

“They say they are aware of the return of locusts but they cannot do anything now until the lockdown is over,”  Qais Al-Hashmi, 44, said, adding he had taken matters into his own hands.

“I am using now a homemade spray mixed with bleach, fly killer and water to get rid of them. I have had limited success but it is not enough.”

The Ministry of Agriculture could not be reached by The National, but on Twitter assured those sharing videos of swarms that they could contact their local development departments to inform them and that spraying was ongoing,

Locusts have even been noticed even in the capital Muscat.

“There are a few in my garden eating away my plants. There are also flying around in the streets eating the leaves of the trees on the roads,” Nabil Al Shehi, 41, a resident in Muscat, said.

Muscat remains under lockdown and on Tuesday the government said it was extending stay at home measures to May 29. On Wednesday, Oman reported 168 new COVID-cases, the highest in any single day since the outbreak started. The total number of infected people is now 2,903 with 13 deaths and 888 recoveries.