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  • Writer's pictureMelo Acuna

Hunger seen in Asia Pacific region with COVID-19, plagues and cyclones

Hunger seen in Asia and the Pacific with multiple impact of viruses, plagues and economic downturn

MANILA – The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said with the world struggling against the spread of COVID-19, said to be the worst pandemic this century, countries in South Asia are responding to plagues of locusts, cyclones and a deadly livestock disease, which threaten to aggravate hunger and the livelihoods of millions of people.

In a statement datelined Bangkok, Thailand, FAO said swarms of desert locust, which came from Africa, have moved rapidly into West Asia and attacked vegetation in parts of Iran and Pakistan and now threatens crops in India. FAO said these swarms are the worst experienced in more than a generation.

Meanwhile, fall armyworm, a maize-destroying pest that came to Asia from Africa in 2018, has also spread across the continent and has reached Australia.

To further compound the program, African swine fever (ASF) re-emerged in the Asia-Pacific region, and for the first time, has been detected in India. ASF, said responsible for the hog production in China in 2018 and 2019, has also been discovered for the first time in the Pacific subregion, with confirmed cases in Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

Cyclones. Amphan and Vongfong, added to the damage in some of countries already reeling from their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It has been noted lockdowns in various countries across the region to thwart COVID-19 took their toll on the economies, lives and livelihoods of millions of people, the convergence of these plant pests, severe storms and animal diseases will further add to the misery.

“We cannot and must not under-estimate the damage to lives and livelihoods that the convergence of these crises will have on food security and hunger in this part of the world, already home to most of its undernourished people,” said Jong-Jin Kim, FAO Deputy Regional Representative and Head of the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.

He further said while governments continue in their continuing battle to save lives and contain the spread of COVID-19, everyone should fight “a war that has multiple fronts and various enemies” in the Asia-Pacific region.

Going to details, FAO said =African swine fever (ASF) has become “an enormous” concern in Asia with some 5,000 outbreaks across the region and more recently into the Pacific region. The Asia-Pacific region contributes more than 50 percent of the world’s pig production (2018 figures according to FAO STAT) as it is one of the major sources of animal protein.

Even Filipino agriculture officials have been quoted saying the disease (ASF) is deadly to pigs but not harmful to humans but just the same resulted in the deaths and culling of millions of pigs particularly in China, the country that was originally hardest hit in 2018 and 2019. However, this year, for the first time, ASF was discovered in India. Authorities are trying to respond to the outbreak while simultaneously responding to COVID-19 and the threat of locusts.

FAO reported Desert Locusts can consume huge amounts of vegetation, including wild plants, trees and grasslands but can also attack vegetable crops and fruit trees. It has been discovered a single swarm of Desert Locusts can cover an entire square kilometer and contain some 80 million insects. FAO experts estimate the number of locusts can grow twenty-fold in the upcoming raining season in South Asia unless extra measures to counter the swarms are installed. FAO is tracking the movements across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

To further compound the problems faced by the Asia Pacific region, Fall armyworm (FAW), COVID-19 lockdowns resulted in limited pest management activities if not completely stopped. FAO has issued its guidance note to respond to the FAW outbreaks at the same time introducing measures to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. FAO recommended the effective Integrated Pest Management (IPB) activities through its Global Action for FAW Control. It is imperative for the different governments to collective respond to the international threat as it will impact on food security and livelihoods of smallholder farmers.

“FAO continues to support our member countries in response to these and other threats in these very challenging times,” Kim said. Concerted efforts remain imperative “for our own sake, and for the same of future generations” he concluded. (Melo M. Acuña)

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