By Richard Tren
A plague of locusts has hit Africa. Massive swarms are devouring crops and other vegetation in their path, imperiling millions and setting the stage for a humanitarian disaster. On his recent visit to three African countries, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo committed a welcome $8 million to aid in locust control. If the U.S. really wants to help, it would stand firm against the radical anti-insecticide agenda.
The desert locust, which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization describes as “the most destructive migratory pest in the world,” can fly as far as 120 miles a day. Tens of billions of locusts can travel in the same swarm. The FAO says that locust swarms now threaten food security and livelihoods in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda as well as the Arabian Peninsula. Kenya has been hit especially hard. One swarm there measures 37 by 25 miles, and agricultural officials there estimate that 1.2 million acres of pasture and cropland have already been destroyed. The U.N. says that more than 20 million people in East Africa are facing food shortages.
The best way to stop the locusts is to spray insecticide from the air. Unfortunately, Kenya lacks adequate supplies of the best and most effective insecticide, fenitrothion, and is scrambling to get additional stocks. The radical environmental movement, which seeks to ban fenitrothion and other safe and effective chemicals, has made Kenyan authorities’ work more difficult.
Since last September, European Union-funded nongovernmental organizations in Kenya have been petitioning the Kenyan Parliament to ban more than 250 registered agricultural insecticides. Foremost among these groups is the Route to Food Initiative, funded by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, which in turn is affiliated with the German Green Party. The chemicals the Greens seek to ban are essential for controlling not only locusts but also common agricultural pests, weeds and fungi. Even as locusts devastate Kenyan crops, NGO lobbyists continue their anti-insecticide crusade.
While the swarms of desert locust present an urgent threat, Africa’s farmers face countless other pests that reduce crop yields. The fall armyworm, a caterpillar native to the Americas, arrived in Africa in 2016 and now affects most of the continent. The pest feeds on many crops but prefers corn, a staple in many African countries, and already it has reduced yields by as much as 50% in some countries.
In the Americas, farmers manage the fall armyworm using a combination of genetically modified crops and insecticides. In Africa, where governments ban most GM crops and lack insecticide, farmers are almost defenseless. The FAO should be working overtime to help African governments deal with the problem in the same way the U.S. has. Instead it seems in thrall to a European environmentalist agenda that eschews modern insecticides and would have African farmers pluck the caterpillars one by one. The FAO’s “agro-ecology agenda” also seeks to ban modern pesticides, impede mechanization and even reduce global trade.
Insecticides are essential not only to modern agriculture but also for public health. They protect people from mosquitoes, fleas, sand flies and other pests that transmit countless parasitic and viral diseases that claim millions of lives every year.
The U.S. ambassador to the FAO, Kip Tom, is taking a lonely stand against this luddite anti-pesticide agenda. In his speech last Thursday at an annual U.S. Department of Agriculture forum, Mr. Tom criticized FAO members for “anti-capitalist” and “anti-trade” ideology and slammed “well-funded NGOs” that spread misinformation and seek to undermine the adoption of vital technology. “Innovation in agriculture and food is the key to global food security,” he said, and it’s needed “around the world.” The locust plague underscores his point.
Mr. Pompeo called on African countries to liberalize their economies and enact reforms to attract investors. This is wise advice, and many African countries are following it already. Reform and liberalization increase prosperity and reinforce sovereignty. Following through on agricultural reforms would make African countries less reliant on paternalistic donors from the EU and U.N.
Africans can let foreign donors play out their ideological fantasies in Africa, like colonialists of yore. Or they can send them home, where, thanks to modern farming technology, they have the privilege of full supermarket shelves.
Mr. Tren is a co-founder of Africa Fighting Malaria.