KABUL: The agricultural sector in Baghlan province, located in northern Afghanistan, is facing a dire situation as locusts wreak havoc on farmlands. The region, known as the country’s breadbasket due to its substantial wheat production, is now at risk of a major food crisis. Many farmers in all districts share concerns, with their harvests being severely affected.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations issued an advisory on May 10, 2023, warning about the imminent outbreak. Moroccan locusts, a species found across North Africa and Western Asia, were reported in 10 provinces of Afghanistan. According to Richard Trenchard, the FAO’s representative in Afghanistan, the previous major outbreaks, occurring 20 and 40 years ago, resulted in estimated losses of 8-25% of the country’s annual wheat production. This year, a full-scale outbreak could lead to crop losses ranging from 700,000 to 1.2 million metric tonnes of wheat, which is up to a quarter of the total annual harvest.
The FAO representative also provided data on the extent of locust damage in Afghanistan’s northern and northeastern provinces up until the first week of June. The worst affected regions were Samanghan, Baghlan, and Kunduz, where locusts damaged approximately 6,000 hectares, 5,000 hectares, and 4,500-5,000 hectares of land, respectively. While the majority of the affected areas were pastures, the locusts also impacted wheat, sesame, green gram, and cover crops.
According to Afghan climate scientists, the surge in locust populations can be attributed to changing precipitation patterns. Wahdatullah Khaplwak, an academic specializing in plant protection and agricultural policy, explained that locusts’ life cycle is highly dependent on weather conditions. Afghanistan is currently enduring its third consecutive year of drought, which has created the perfect environment for Moroccan locusts. The lack of rainfall and drought conditions have rendered the soil barren, yet with enough moisture to facilitate early hatching of locust eggs and the thriving of larvae on sparse vegetation, exacerbating the situation.