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The West's Role in Africa's Day of the Locust

Blog Post | Environment & Pollution

The West's Role in Africa's Day of the Locust

Anti-pesticide activism has facilitated disastrous infestations of African crops.

Two weeks ago a Boeing 737 on final approach to Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, flew into a massive cloud of locusts swarming above the airport. The insects were sucked into the plane’s engines and splattered across the windshield, blinding the pilots to the runway ahead. Throttling up to climb above the swarm, the pilot had to depressurize the cabin so he could reach around from the side window and clear the windshield by hand. Diverting to Addis Ababa, the plane was able to land safely.

The locusts that almost brought down the 737 are part of the worst infestation to hit Africa in 75 years. Swarms of locusts can blanket 460 miles at a time and consume more than 400 million pounds of vegetation a day; and the grasshopper-like insects increase logarithmically, meaning locust swarms could be 500 times bigger in six months.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calls the threat “unprecedented,” but attempts at aerial spraying have been too little, too late — largely because of FAO’s own politically-driven agenda to limit pesticides — and experts fear Africa may once again be tilting toward widespread famine.

As poor farmers futilely shoo the voracious insects away with sticks, this modern plague highlights the urgent need for pesticides to protect crops and save lives. It also casts into stark relief the tragic consequences of UN, European and environmentalist campaigns to deny these life-saving chemicals to developing nations.

Over the last decade, development organizations and activist NGOs have increasingly pushed organic-style agriculture on the poorest nations, making assistance dependent on a highly politicized version of “agro-ecology” that arbitrarily limits pesticides, bans advanced hybrid crops and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and extols the virtues of “peasant” farming. The result is that Africa has been left virtually defenseless against successive natural assaults to the continent’s ability to feed itself.

The locusts arrive on top of Africa’s on-going struggle with the Fall Army Worm (FAW), which has already spread to some 44 countries. It feeds on a range of plants, but prefers corn, the staple food for most Africans, and has reduced yields by 50% in many regions.

In the Americas, FAW is kept in check by a combination of insect-resistant GMOs and modern pesticides. Yet most African countries have not authorized GMOs because of well-funded environmental propaganda campaigns demonising the technology — claiming GMOs cause everything from impotence to cancer and autism — and fear of losing their primary export market in Europe, which has arbitrarily restricted critical pesticides used in every other advanced, developed region of the world. The FAO, while discouraging pesticides and GMOs, advises farmers to pick off the insects one by one and crush them with their hands.

Add to this epidemics of Wheat Rust (potential crop loss 100%); Banana Wilt (50% crop loss); and Cassava Mosaic Virus (up to 90% loss). There are thousands of pests around the world that attack agricultural plants, and they don’t just kill crops. Moulds that can only be controlled with pesticides produce highly poisonous metabolites called mycotoxins that, if they don’t kill you immediately, can give you cancer and destroy your immune system. They probably constitute the number one food health threat even in wealthy nations, but we keep levels safe with pesticides, GMOs, and expensive food inspection regimes — all things Africa is being denied or can’t afford.

Then there are the insect-borne diseases like Malaria, Zika, Dengue, and countless other parasitic and viral infections. When Zika or West Nile threaten our cities, we haul out the spray cans and ignore the griping of environmentalists. In Africa, however, the anti-pesticide groups hold sway. At their urging, Kenya may soon ban over 200 pesticides that evidence-based regulatory agencies around the world have deemed safe and that Kenya’s farmers desperately need.

Those who think small-scale organic farming is friendlier to mother nature are wrong. Organic farmers use lots of pesticides. They’re simply “natural” ones, like copper sulfate or neem oil, which are highly toxic to people and wildlife. They’re also less effective against pests, so they have to use more of them. Modern pesticides are among the most carefully tested and regulated chemicals in use, and they are used increasingly in targeted, precise ways to limit wider environmental impacts.

Most importantly, modern farming allows us to produce more food on less land. According to Rockefeller University’s Jesse Ausubel, US corn production has quintupled on the same amount of land.  He estimates that if American farming techniques were to be adopted globally, an area the size of India could be returned to nature over the next 50 years.

“Better Living Through Chemistry” was the catchy DuPont slogan of the 1960s. The slogan rings true for those of us living longer, healthier lives of plenty, with more food than at any time in human history. But if the campaigns against chemicals and the demonisation of modern agriculture are successful, these gains may well be reversed.

Perhaps that’s the plan. Radical environmentalists have maintained that human beings are the problem. “Fewer Living Without Chemistry” might as well be the slogan of the modern environmentalist movement.

This originally appeared in CapX.

The Guardian | Conservation & Biodiversity

Wildcats Born outside Captivity in Cairngorms a “Major Milestone”

“The birth of wildcat kittens in the Cairngorms national park has been hailed as a ‘major milestone’ in efforts to rescue the secretive mammals from extinction in the UK.

In footage exclusively shared with the Guardian by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS), two of the kittens can be seen playing in grassland with their mother and leaping on to a fallen tree branch.

These are potentially the first wildcats to be born outside captivity in Scotland for more than five years after 19 wildcats, which had been bred at the Highland wildlife park, near Kingussie, were released last summer in sites across the Cairngorms in a pilot project by the Saving Wildcats partnership, led by RZSS.

It was the first time a predatory mammal had been deliberately reintroduced in the UK after a landmark report in 2019 concluded the Scottish wildcat population was close to being functionally extinct. This was because of population decline caused by loss of native woodland and human persecution, and interbreeding with feral and domestic cats.”

From The Guardian.

BBC | Conservation & Biodiversity

New Tech Aims to Keep Polar Bears and People Apart

“Polar bears now spend more of the year on land, as Arctic sea ice melts, so conservationists are increasingly concerned about bears and people coming into contact.

The tracking tags, which have been tested on bears in Canadian Arctic, could help prevent those encounters, by ‘keeping a remote eye’ on the bears…

In communities in the southern Canadian Arctic, where the scientists tested these tags, polar bears that wander too close to a community are sometimes caught, transported and released in carefully selected sites away from towns and villages.

‘These tags could be fitted to those bears to monitor where they are after they’ve been released,’ explained Mr Ross.

‘If they’re coming back towards the community, conservation staff would have a sense of where they are, and they could head them off. I think that’s where they offer considerable promise.'”

From BBC.

The Guardian | Conservation & Biodiversity

North Atlantic Right Whale Seen off Ireland for First Time in 114 Years

“Holidaymaker Adrian Maguire, from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, glimpsed the large, dark body of the whale on the surface of the water while out fishing for mackerel…

It is the first sighting of a North Atlantic right whale off Ireland in 114 years, said Conor Ryan, honorary research fellow at the Scottish Association for Marine Science.”

From The Guardian.

Phys.org | Conservation & Biodiversity

After a Century Away, Sturgeons Return to Swedish Waters

“A century after it disappeared from Swedish waters, scientists in June embarked on a 10-year project to reintroduce the Atlantic sturgeon to a cleaned-up river in the west of the country.

In the opening act, 100 young sturgeons—transferred from a farm in Germany—were introduced into the waters of Gota alv…

The species lived in the river until the late 19th century, but gradually disappeared due to overfishing and pollution.

Today, the river is much cleaner and conditions are again right for the sturgeon.”

From Phys.org.