… according to Google Earth. Looks a bit like a target for a missile strike.
… according to Google Earth. Looks a bit like a target for a missile strike.
From the London Review of Books:
Day of the Locusts
Last month the Food and Agriculture Organisation issued a warning of a possible threat of locust swarms to crops and food security in the region from west of the Red Sea – Egypt, Sudan and Eritrea – across Arabia and into southern Iran. They first reported an outbreak in Sudan and Eritrea in December, following good rains in May and October which created the necessary conditions for locust breeding. In January, the Egyptian and Sudanese locust control authorities declared a state of emergency. Teams have been tracking the movements of locusts and spraying them with pesticides.
The outbreak spread to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, the UAE and Iran with the risk of a further spread towards Pakistan and India. Locust swarms can fly more than a hundred miles a day. Local breeding has also begun in north-west Mauritania and southern Algeria. The next three months will be critical for bringing the situation under control before summer breeding starts. Success depends on effective control and monitoring measures – and on rainfall. The FAO’s Desert Locust Information Service, based in Rome, monitors the situation throughout the world and issues forecasts, as well as providing training and developing technology. But so far the locusts seem to be winning more than losing.
Most of the time locusts are just big grasshoppers, mainly green and brown, living solitary and innocent lives. But when food is plentiful after rain and the population becomes dense, they change their appearance and habits. The females lay their eggs in sync; their numbers can increase twenty-fold in three months. They become black, yellow or red, and extraordinarily gregarious, forming enormous swarms which can clear a field of everything green in no time at all.
They eat their own weight in food every day and, according to the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, a large swarm may eat 160,000 tonnes of food a day – enough to feed 800,000 people for a year. The last major upsurge was in 2003-5 when control measures and food aid together cost about $750 million; the damage to crops is estimated at $2.5 billion. A locust plague can affect 20 per cent of the Earth’s land area and damage the livelihood of one-tenth of the global population.
The threat of locust plagues has been long recognised, and they have played their part in history both ancient and modern. The two crossings of the Empty Quarter by Wilfred Thesiger immediately after the Second World War, described in his book Arabian Sands, were organised and financed by the British Middle East Anti-Locust Unit as part of a search for locust breeding grounds. Locusts formed the eighth of the ten plagues inflicted on Egypt in the Book of Exodus (immediately following ‘the rain and the hail and the thunders’). Homer compares the Trojans fleeing before Achilles to a swarm of locusts fleeing from a wild fire.
According to St Matthew’s Gospel, John the Baptist lived in the desert and ate locusts and wild honey. Some have suggested that the word locusts here means not the insects but the seedpods of the carob or locust tree – perhaps imagining that an ascetic should be a vegetarian – but that seems fanciful; the word ἀκρίς in the Greek text is unambiguous (the scientific name of the locust family Acrididae is derived from it). Locusts are in fact commonly eaten, and can be a useful source of protein. According to the Book of Leviticus, winged insects are an abomination, but locusts, crickets and grasshoppers are an exception and may be eaten.
Charles Doughty ate them often among the Bedouin and even provides a recipe in his Travels in Arabia Deserta (1870), although he comments in his eccentric Spenserian English that ‘locust powder is not victual to set before guests,’ adding: ‘I have seen poor nomads (more often women) a little out of countenance to confess that (to beguile hunger) they were eating this wretchedness.’ Eating them is currently banned in Saudi Arabia because of the danger of poisoning from pesticides, but there is a thriving black market just now in al-Ahsa, eastern Saudi Arabia, with locusts going for about 12p a bug.
I experienced a locust swarm in Jordan in 1964 or 1965, much more limited than the real plague there in 1963. It was almost frightening, like being in a heavy snowstorm, but with the sky darkened not by snowflakes but by insects a couple of inches long. Two weeks ago strong north winds checked what seemed an immediate threat to Jordan. The Israeli Ministry of Agriculture was gearing up and checking its supplies of insecticides although the chances of locusts reaching there were still considered relatively low. The latest weather news is worrying, with rain reported right across Arabia, a recent thunderstorm in the Emirates and more than an inch of rain in parts of Oman – good news were it not for the locusts.
Good news for the TDAA, not so good for the planet: more people turned up for our AGM last week than Conservatives turned up for the debate on climate change (left-side benches in the picture), and the opposition only just beat us (right-side benches). All too busy scheming their place in the post-Brexit cabinet, I expect. It takes children to tell them that it doesn’t matter who runs the country if there is no country.
Meanwhile, I’ve uploaded the agenda and the minutes to the page on this site called “the seedbank”. Follow the below or click the link at the top of the page:
(Dunno why it’s called that – WordPress having a bad day).
There were a number of days set aside for special events. I’ve updated the calendar on the site. They are:
19 May – seeding swap, tea and cake – 1.30
21 July – BBQ – 1.30
8 Sept – harvest and the unveiling of the plot behind the hut – 1.30 (I expect there’ll be cakes as well).
NEXT AGM TO BE HELD 1ST TUESDAY OF MARCH 2020
Tuesday 5 March – the sir Charles Napier – 8pm
Here’s a picture from last year’s:
Sorry for the downtime. We’d had a lot of phishing spam and our webhost automatically shut it down. Sorted now, but I will be moving the forum to a more modern and secure platform as soon as I work out how to transfer the archive.
Robert, Tenantry Down webeditor
Just to let you all know the allotment AGM is on at Charles Napier pancake day 5th March starting at 8pm.
All warmly welcome, please let me know if there are any items you would like added to the agenda to discuss related to Tenantry Down.
As we all know these are hard things for allotment sites with council cuts, break ins and thefts so support for the allotment association helps us be heard with a bigger voice and the chance for input in looking after these vital spaces.
Hope to see you there after your pancakes.
Secretary Tenantry Down Allotment Association
Because the first Tuesday in January 2019 (gosh – already? Where’s the year gone?) is on New Year’s Day, we’re moving it to Tuesday 8th January 2019 instead.
I’ve run this story before but it’s worth getting as much publicity for it as we can. If people decide not to get involved, they should do so for good reasons, not just because they didn’t know about the scheme. The BHAF in collaboration with the council have set up a way of donating to a ring-fenced fund for allotments. The idea is that people who are maybe a little better off voluntarily give money over and above their rent to the council to enable (perhaps) those who find it harder to pay their rent to manage. It’s a kind of self-administered means-testing, and it is simply a brilliant idea.
I’m still in two minds about it, though. It’s needed because the council has determined the allotments should be cost-neutral – that the take in rents equals the cost of providing the service. That’s a political decision, not a financial one; there’s no difference between that and a future council saying (for example) that the rents should be commercially competitive, and they should be able to make a profit from them as if they were renting to property developers. On the other hand, BHAF quote the true fact that councils do have a finite and shrinking budget, and that essential services are being cut. People are suffering, and those of us who have allotments and find it relatively easy to pay the rent are taking resources from schools, police, libraries, bin collections and roads. Allotments are excellent value, and if we can afford to pay, we should.
Another issue is the “ring-fencing”. This will of course be rigorously implemented, but may not mean what you think. It won’t mean, for example, that the allotment service will have more money from the donations, because as they increase, the funds diverted from other services – many of which, as I’ve said, are more essential – will also be cut, possibly after a short delay. That’s not a bad thing, but I wouldn’t say it’s a good thing.
The current committee at BHAF are excellent, dedicated, and honourable people, and if they recommend something like this, that says a lot. If you do want to donate, you should have received a how-to with your invoice in October (I’ll also include it in a post here soon). Probably the best way to pay – because less likely to be misallocated – is to go to the council website, click “pay online”, and select the payment type “Allotment Donation”. Then pay by card or PayPal. This form of payment (called webpay public) will allocate the donation automatically, and you can pay anonymously. Other ways of paying are available – details on the how-to.