International collaboration

Internationally, the leading force behind the study of locust ecology and control was Sir Boris P. Uvarov, who established the Anti-Locust Centre in London and became the world’s authority on the pest.88 The Desert Locust Information Service, operated by the Anti-Locust Centre, recognized that locusts are much more difficult to control than first anticipated. International collaboration was becoming increasingly necessary in order to minimize the damage caused by locusts to agricultural production.89 The internationalization of locust control was enabled through the support of various United Nations (UN) organizations. Understanding the seasonal cycles of locust outbreaks required the use of meteorological services to forecast rainfall patterns and distribution that had direct influence on the migrations of locust swarms.90 During the first international conference held in Rome in 1920 and the second international conference in the 1930s, two key goals were achieved. The first was to invite the governments of countries affected by locust problems and request them to cooperate in ‘sending regular reports to the Anti-Locust Research Centre in London.’ The second was to use the reports to analyze the seasonal breeding cycles of migratory locusts, map their breeding grounds and mark the trajectories of the swarms.91

Four types of institutions were needed in decentralizing anti-locust activities. The first was a scientific institution responsible for understanding the ecology and behavior of the locust. For this purpose, the Imperial Institute of London was selected to play an advisory role.92 The second type of institution coordinated international collaboration to support scientific work and mobilize finances. The third type of institution was regional to deal with locusts in the outbreak areas. The fourth type was at the local level, where local communities needed to be mobilized.

This decentralized approach to locust control required establishing both scientific and emergency organizations that could respond to imminent locust invasions.93 Considering the wide ranging threat to several regions simultaneously, Locust Survey Committees were organized to deal with regional control.94 Additionally, financial commitments by international organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations increased capacity in conducting anti-locust activities.93 International locust control services organized research on locust ecology to understand conditions that triggered swarming.96 The 1938 international conference held in Brussels reported on established swarm control in the Sahelian region of Africa.9, In East Africa, the three countries (Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda) spent £750,000 annually on organizations to control the desert locust.98 Yet it was not until the 1940s that sustained attacks on the locusts began to bear fruit.99

In January 1949 the British Government approved a five-year budget of £470,000 to support field campaigns in Eritrea, British Somaliland, western Saudi Arabia and the breeding areas in Indo-Pakistan. The aim was to attack the different swarms simultaneously in their breeding grounds. In total, the campaigns involved 124 officers (and many thousands of local people) and 140 vehicles to support the anti-locust activities.100 By 1950, the budget for anti-locust campaigns in the region was increased to £1.22 million per annum, with Kenya alone expected to contribute £244,400 of the total budget.101

The success of the campaigns was nonetheless limited by several factors. The first was that staff in local locust control organizations were on shortterm contracts, which implied that after they had subdued the swarms, many of them would be dismissed—thus recruitment proved difficult. Second, considering that the Desert Locust Control Organization had established a number of stations in different countries, the lack of permanent staff and the high staff turnover adversely affected locust control efforts.102 The successes of desert locust control in the 1950s were partially attributable to the assistance of the military authorities who—after the Second World War—provided vast numbers of vehicles and other supplies to support activities of the organization. In particular, the use of aerial surveillance and aerial spraying became possible, using refitted military planes (see later section).101

Using these additional assets, a close watch on the outbreak areas was maintained in attempting to save the countries of East Africa from the swarms. The British Government decided with the Italian Government in Somalia to coordinate anti-locust activities, at a cost of £20,850 per annum. Funding made available through the Colonial Development and Welfare

Scheme provided 24 percent of this sum. The collaborating countries were expected to provide an additional sum of £200,000 necessary to sustain the fight against locust infestations. The colonial governments in East Africa needed to make urgent decisions as to whether the 1950s campaigns would be mounted, in which case an estimated total of £500,000 to £1 million would be needed.104

The challenge was that, while funding was being negotiated, the incipient swarms were already arriving in Eritrea and British Somaliland. Part of the reason for the delay was bureaucratic. A condition in granting the funds was that the East African High Commission should request authorization from the British Government to begin the anti-locust campaign and start spending the money. Another condition was that the colonies should not embark on any exercises without knowledge of the extent of the threats and potential consequences, after which they would be permitted to spend the money. For the British Government, attention should be focused on areas of higher economic returns and less on other areas—by doing so, it would be possible to control the plague at reduced costs. The British Government justified its decisions on the grounds that the high cost of locust control campaigns across the neighboring countries would be an unfair economic burden on the governments of the East African colonies notwithstanding the additional funding that had been made available.105 Thus, delays in funding created a dangerous situation that served to undermine the effectiveness of locust control in the region.

Simultaneously, there were extensive infestations of hoppers in the Tigre Province of Ethiopia. Due to the difficult topography, a considerable number of the swarms escaped and dispersed. The year 1951 was among the worst in recent history, with the locust plague threatening large expanses of countries extending from Ethiopia, Somaliland and into East Africa. The locusts coalesced into series of swarms which—with the equipment at hand (comprising 35 Land Rovers and a tribal labor force)—were impossible to put out of action. Were it not for the coordination of international efforts, East Africa would not have been spared. With greater technical coordination by the FAO, the reconnaissance unit was able to map areas where the outbreaks occurred.106

Nevertheless, the heavy rains in the region had produced successive generations of locusts that were proving difficult to contain.10. This caused policy changes on locust control. The strategy of protecting crop-producing areas while neglecting remote regions as being not so important for immediate economic development was opposed by the Desert Locust Survey Committee. Such a selective approach to controlling locusts would not reduce invasions in the long term. Not only would it undermine the confidence of the cooperating countries, but it would allow the locusts to reach plague levels that would be impossible to stop before they invaded East Africa.108

Agreeing with this analysis, the East Africa Commission suggested that more investment was needed for research in the outbreak areas and to apply the findings in the farming areas where crops were at risk of locust invasion.109 The challenge was that until 1951, there was weak cooperation between the British Government and the FAO.110 The extent of frustration induced by desert locust control attempts is demonstrated by the large amount of archival material that repeats similar messages every month during the years 1953 and 1954, when swarms of various sizes threatened agricultural lands in East Africa—this had been occurring without a break since 1947. New danger was posed by swarms breeding in the remote arid regions of Kenya—such as Turkana—from where it was only a short flight to the agricultural lands in Uganda and western Kenya. From the assess- ments available, the 1954 invasion covered more than 1600 km2 into Kenya.111 The campaigns might have succeeded in reducing the effects of swarms but were never able to halt them entirely. Political problems in the outbreak regions such as Saudi Arabia had left large parts of the countries inaccessible. In other areas, the campaigns had arrived too late, after the swarms had begun migration, spreading to the East African countries.112

By 1955, the swarms had subsided, following successful containment in Somalia. However, following successful breeding in Arabia and Aden, new generations of swarms entered Somaliland during July and August in 1955, posing another threat to East Africa. Reports predicted that if not stopped, these swarms would cause damage to agriculture to the tune of £3 million. As before, the first objective of this control initiative was to prevent the swarms from reaching East Africa, and the second objective was to prevent damage to crops.113

Despite the international organizations spending between £4 million and £8 million annually to control desert locusts, successful breeding in Arabia and the incipient swarms in the Horn of Africa continued to threaten East Africa.114 It was very clear to the Desert Locust Survey Commission that temporary institutions would not be able to sustain defense against the swarms. This led to the formation of the Desert Locust Control Organization of East Africa (DLCOEA)11’ with an annual budget that varied between £900,000 in 1955-1956 and £450,000 in 1958-1959, to experiment with aerial spays of pesticides, among a myriad of other methods.116

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