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Scientists call for innovation in fight against locust swarms

As they are of the opinion that currently, we are too dependent on chemical pesticides, that are harmful to the environment, scientists are calling for innovation, including the use of genetic engineering, to find a sustainable, long-term solution to the plague of destructive locust pest.

“Something we can think about is genetically engineering the biological control agents to be more effective against the desert locusts,”  Dr. Michael Osae, president of the Entomological Society of Ghana, said.

He noted that there is a fungus, Metarhizium anisopliae, that is effective against desert locusts. It has been developed into a commercial biopesticide product called green muscle. “The fungus’ efficacy in the field is not too good and cannot deal with plague situations,” he explained in an interview with Alliance for Science. “But if we can genetically modify it to be more virulent, such that it can kill faster, this can prevent them from reproducing.”

Though no work is currently ongoing that explores genetic modification in dealing with the pests, the entomologist is convinced it is a sustainable option that warrants attention.

Countries in East Africa are currently battling a widespread invasion by the pests as they destroy crops, leaving vast populations food insecure. Somalia and Ethiopia are facing the worst desert locust infestation in 25 years while this is Kenya’s worst in 70 years. Some communities have experienced 100 percent crop loss,  with Somalia declaring the pest invasion a national emergency. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) says it will need about $70 million to urgently support both pest control and livelihood protection operations in these three most affected countries.

“Authorities in the region have already jump-started control activities, but in view of the scale and urgency of the threat, additional financial backing from the international donor community is needed so they can access the tools and resources required to get the job done,” FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said in a statement.

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