UN food agency says widespread locust infestation in Afghan provinces is 'huge concern'

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The U.N. food agency is warning that a widespread locust infestation in several Afghan provinces is of “huge concern” and could possibly decimate a quarter of the wheat crop.

A statement from the Food and Agriculture Organization, dated Wednesday, said that at least eight of Afghanistan's 34 provinces have been affected by the Moroccan Locust, ranked among the most economically damaging plant pests in the world.

“The reports of Moroccan Locust outbreak in Afghanistan’s breadbasket is a huge concern," said Richard Trenchard, FAO's representative in Afghanistan. "It represents an enormous threat to farmers, communities, and the entire country.”

He added that the last two big outbreaks, 20 and 40 years ago, cost Afghanistan an estimated 8% and 25% of its annual wheat production respectively.

Afghanistan's Taliban-appointed spokesman for the agriculture, irrigation, and livestock ministry said the authorities were aware of the dangers.

“We are aware of the situation and are focusing on reducing its impact and trying to supply the affected areas with the pesticides needed,” said spokesman Misbahudeen Mustaeen.

Thousands of people in the affected provinces have been working to eradicate the locusts before their adult stage, when they swarm and fly to farmland, significantly damaging the crops.

According to FAO, a full outbreak this year could result in crop losses up to a quarter of the total wheat harvest, translating to between $280 million and $480 million in economic losses. The U.N. body is requesting urgent funding to locust-combating measures, as well as on-the ground surveys to monitor and map locust hatching sites.

The infestation comes at a time when Afghanistan is suffering from its third consecutive year of drought, putting more economic pressure on the cash-strapped country and its Taliban rulers.

The international community has not officially recognized the Taliban, who seized power in 2021, imposing a series of restrictive measures that have drawn wide criticism. With Afghanistan's assets abroad frozen, the economy has spiraled further, deepening the hardships of ordinary Afghans.

In April, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Afghanistan needs $4.62 billion in humanitarian aid for nearly 24 million Afghans in need.