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UN-backed study finds that climate change is partially responsible for intensified spread of invasive pests

A study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has found that the spread of famine-inducing invasive pest species is the latest humanitarian consequence of climate change.

The study, which examines 15 plant pests that have spread or may spread due to climate change, warns that a single, unusually warm winter is “capable of providing conditions suitable for insect infestations”.

According to the FAO, around 40% of global crop production is lost to invasive pests, with their spread exacting more than $70 billion annually from affected countries. The study highlights the particularly destructive impact of fall armyworm and desert locusts, stating that the latter is likely to alter migratory routes and geographical distribution as a result of climate change.

The authors of the report outlined several methods of mitigating the spread of invasive pests: calling for the introduction of improved measures to limit transmission through travel and trade, urging greater international cooperation, stressing the importance of further research and strengthening of defense structures relating to plant health.

Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the FAO, said that:

“The key findings of this review should alert all of us on how climate change may affect how infectious, distributed and severe pests can become around the world”

In recent years, the adverse effects of invasive pest species on food security and the livelihoods of many vulnerable communities has become more evident.

2020 saw unprecedented numbers of desert locust swarms plaguing dozens of countries across east Africa, the Middle East and the Indo-Pakistan border area. Countries such as Ethiopia and Yemen, where widespread conflict has already aggravated food insecurity issues, are among those most deeply affected by such swarms.

Yemen’s civil war has reportedly disrupted vital monitoring and control efforts, often preventing combat teams from entering certain areas due to fighting. Not only has this affected Yemen, but neighbouring countries, with swarms of locusts allowed to breed and migrate unchecked.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also contributed significantly to the current hunger crisis. The UN has previously warned of famines of “biblical proportions” as a result of the pandemic and projecting an 82% increase in the number of people facing crisis level hunger. Following the publication of their annual report on acute food insecurity, the Global Network Against Food Crises said that:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the fragility of the global food system and the need for more equitable, sustainable and resilient systems to nutritiously and consistently feed 8.5 billion people by 2030”

World Food Programme spokeswoman, Elisabeth Byrs, said that in Yemen alone:

“there are 10 million people who are facing acute food shortage, and we are ringing the alarm bell for these people, because their situation is deteriorating because of escalation and because of the lockdowns, the constraints and the social-economic impact of the coronavirus”

As food security across much of the developing world wanes, governments and international organisations must ensure that the recommendations of this report are fully implemented and that funding and support, crucial to the survival of vulnerable people across the world, is uninhibited.

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