Running out of time: East Africa faces new locust threat

By Omar Mohammed and Dawit Endeshaw

NAIROBI/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Countries in East Africa are racing against time to prevent new swarms of locusts wreaking havoc with crops and livelihoods after the worst infestation in generations.

A lack of expertise in controlling the pests is not their only problem: Kenya temporarily ran out of pesticides, Ethiopia needs more planes and Somalia and Yemen, torn by civil war, can’t guarantee exterminators’ safety.

Locust swarms have been recorded in the region since biblical times, but unusual weather patterns exacerbated by climate change have created ideal conditions for insect numbers to surge, scientists say.

Warmer seas are creating more rain, wakening dormant eggs, and cyclones that disperse the swarms are getting stronger and more frequent.

In Ethiopia the locusts have reached the fertile Rift Valley farmland and stripped grazing grounds in Kenya and Somalia. Swarms can travel up to 150 km (93 miles) a day and contain between 40-80 million locusts per square kilometer.

If left unchecked, the number of locusts in East Africa could explode 400-fold by June. That would devastate harvests in a region with more than 19 million hungry people, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned.

Uganda has deployed the military. Kenya has trained hundreds of youth cadets to spray. Lacking pesticides, some security forces in Somalia have shot anti-aircraft guns at swarms darkening the skies.

Everyone is racing the rains expected in March: the next generation of larvae is already wriggling from the ground, just as farmers plant their seeds.

“The second wave is coming,” said Cyril Ferrand, FAO’s head of resilience for Eastern Africa. “As crops are planted, locusts will eat everything.”

The impact so far on agriculture, which generates about a third of East Africa’s economic output, is unknown, but FAO is using satellite images to assess the damage, he said.

FILE PHOTO: A swarm of desert locusts flies over a ranch near the town on Nanyuki in Laikipia county, Kenya, February 21, 2020. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

PESTICIDE SHORTAGES

In Kenya, the region’s wealthiest and most stable country, the locusts are mostly in the semi-arid north, although some crops have been affected, said Stanley Kipkoech, a senior official at the Ministry of Agriculture.

This month, Kenya ran out of pesticide for about a week and a half, he said. Farmers watched helplessly as their families’ crops were devoured.

In Ethiopia, the government can only afford to rent four planes for aerial spraying, but it needs at least twice that number to contain the outbreak before harvesting begins in March, Zebdewos Salato, director of plant protection at the Ministry of Agriculture, told Reuters.

“We are running out of time,” he said.

Ethiopia’s single pesticide factory is working flat out.

The country needs 500,000 liters for the upcoming harvest and planting season but is struggling to produce its maximum 200,000 liters after foreign exchange shortages delayed the purchase of chemicals, the factory’s chief executive Simeneh Altaye said.

FAO is helping the government to procure planes, vehicles and sprayers, said Fatouma Seid, the agency’s representative in Ethiopia. It is also urgently trying to buy pesticides from Europe.

MONEY AND GUNS

Pest controllers in Somalia can’t enter areas controlled by the Islamist al Shabaab insurgency, said Aidid Suleiman Hashi, environment minister for the southern region of Jubbaland.

When the locusts invaded, residents blew horns, beat drums and rang bells to scare away the insects. Al Shabaab fired anti-craft and machine guns at the swarms, Hashi said. Jubbaland forces, not to be outdone, did so too.

Under such circumstances, contractors are reluctant to do aerial spraying, FAO said.

Meanwhile, locusts – which have a life cycle of three months – are breeding. FAO says each generation is an average of 20 times more numerous.

When eggs hatch, as they are doing now in northern Kenya, the hungry young locusts are earthbound for two weeks and more vulnerable to spraying than when they grow wings.

After that, they take to the air in swarms so dense they have forced aircraft to divert. A single square kilometer swarm can eat as much food in a day as 35,000 people.

FAO said containing the plague will cost at least $138 million. So far, donors have pledged $52 million. Failure means more hunger in a region already battered by conflict and climate shocks.

Since 2016, there have been droughts in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, then floods, Ferrand said. In South Sudan, more than half the population already faces food shortages.

CLIMATE CHANGE

The rains that blessed the region with a bumper crop last year after a prolonged drought also brought a curse.

A cyclical weather pattern in the Indian Ocean, intensified by rising sea temperatures, contributed to one of the wettest October-December rainy seasons in five decades, said Nathanial Matthews of the Stockholm-based Global Resilience Partnership, a public-private partnership focused on climate change.

Locusts hatched in Yemen, largely ignored in the chaos of the civil war. They migrated across the Red Sea to the Horn of Africa, then spread to Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. Now they have been spotted in Uganda, South Sudan and Tanzania.

The rains awoke the dormant eggs then stronger and more numerous cyclones scattered the insects. Eight cyclones tore across the Indian Ocean in 2019, the highest number in a single year since records began, said Matthews.

(Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu, Abdiqani Hassan in Garowe, Somalia, Denis Dumo in Juba; Writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Katharine Houreld, Alexandra Zavis and Mike Collett-White)

Smart drones to be tested in battle against E. Africa locust swarms

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The United Nations is to test drones equipped with mapping sensors and atomizers to spray pesticides in parts of east Africa battling an invasion of desert locusts that are ravaging crops and exacerbating a hunger crisis.

Hundreds of millions of the voracious insects have swept across Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya in what the U.N. has called the worst outbreak in a quarter of a century, with Uganda, Eritrea and Djibouti also affected.

Authorities in those countries are already carrying out aerial spraying of pesticides, but experts say the scale of the infestation is beyond local capacity as desert locusts can travel up to 150 km (95 miles) in a day.

They threaten to increase food shortages in a region where up to 25 million people are reeling from three consecutive years of droughts and floods, say aid agencies.

Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said specially developed prototypes would be tested that can detect swarms via special sensors and adapt their speed and height accordingly.

“Nobody’s ever done this with desert locusts before. So we have no proven methodology for using drones for spraying on locusts,” said Cressman.

“There are already small atomizer sprayers made for drones. But with locusts, we just don’t know how high and how fast to fly.”

The swarms – one reportedly measuring 40 km by 60 km – have already devoured tens of thousands of hectares of crops, such as maize, sorghum and teff, and ravaged pasture for livestock.

By June, the fast-breeding locusts could grow by 500 times and move into South Sudan.

The impact on the region’s food supply could be enormous – a locust swarm of a square kilometre is able to eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people, says the FAO.

CAN DRONES WORK?

Climate scientists say global warming may be behind the current infestations, which have also hit parts of Iran, India and Pakistan.

Warmer seas have resulted in a rise in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean. This caused heavy downpours along the Arabian peninsula, creating ideal conditions for locust breeding in the deserts of Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Researchers are increasingly looking to technology to help provide early warning signs and control locust outbreaks amid fears climate change could bring more cyclones.

Officials in Kenya say drones could play an important role given the limited number of aircraft.

“Every county wants an aircraft, but we have only have five at the moment and they can only be in one location at one time,” said David Mwangi, head of plant protection at Kenya’s ministry of agriculture.

“We have not used drones before, but I think it’s worth testing them as they could help.”

Existing drone models are restricted in terms of the volumes they can carry and the distances they can cover due to their size and limited battery life, say entomologists and plant protection researchers.

Another challenge for drone use in such emergencies is the lack of regulation. Many east African countries are still in the early stages of drafting laws, prohibiting usage unless in exceptional circumstances and with strict approvals.

That makes it harder to deploy larger drones, which have petrol-powered engines capable of carrying tanks of up to 1,500 litres and travelling distances of up to 500 km, and often require special approval.

Drones can also be used in the aftermath of an infestation.

“The other use case for drones is in post disaster mapping,” said Kush Gadhia from Astral Aerial Solutions, a Kenyan firm that seeks to use drones to address development challenges.

“Governments need to know the extent of the damage afterwards. Combining larger satellite maps with smaller drone maps – which provide higher resolution images – will give more accurate assessments on the extent crop loss and health.”

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Somalia hit by worst desert locust invasion in 25 years

By Giulia Paravicini

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Desert locusts are destroying tens of thousands of hectares of crops and grazing land in Somalia in the worst invasion in 25 years, the United Nations food agency said on Wednesday, and the infestation is likely to spread further.

The locusts have damaged about 70,000 hectares of land in Somalia and neighboring Ethiopia, threatening food supplies in both countries and the livelihoods of farming communities, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.

An average swarm will destroy crops that could feed 2,500 people for a year, the FAO said.

Conflict and chaos in much of Somalia make spraying pesticide by airplane – which the FAO called the “ideal control measure” – impossible, the agency said in a statement. “The impact of our actions in the short term is going to be very limited.”

Ashagre Molla, 66, a father of seven from Woldia in the Amhara region 700 km (435 miles) north-east of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, said he had so far received no help from the government.

“I was supposed to get up to 3,000 kg of teff (a cereal grass) and maize this year, but because of desert locusts and untimely rains I only got 400 kg of maize and expect only 200 kg of teff.

“This is not even enough to feed my family,” he said.

The locust plague is far more serious than the FAO earlier projected and has been made worse by unseasonably heavy rainfall and floods across East Africa that have killed hundreds of people in the past several months.

Experts say climate shocks are largely responsible for rapidly changing weather patterns in the region.

(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini and Dawit Endeshaw; Editing by Maggie Fick and Giles Elgood)

Kudlow says U.S. expects China to start purchasing crops very soon

FILE PHOTO: White House chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow speaks with reporters on the driveway outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, U.S. June 27, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Thursday the United States expects China to start purchasing crops and U.S. agricultural products soon and noted that trade talks between the two countries are ongoing.

The United States and China agreed last month to restart trade talks that stalled in May. President Donald Trump agreed not to impose new tariffs and U.S. officials said China agreed to make agricultural purchases, but those have not yet materialized.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

U.S. farmers experimenting with hemp as China trade war drags on

A sample of industrial hemp seeds is shown at a research station site in Haysville, Kansas, U.S., May 2, 2019. REUTERS/Julie Ingwersen

By Julie Ingwersen and David Randall

HAYSVILLE, Kansas (Reuters) – A growing number of U.S. farmers battered by low grain prices and the threat of a prolonged trade war with China are seeking salvation in a plant that until recently was illegal: hemp.

A cousin of cannabis plants that produce marijuana, hemp is used in products ranging from food to building materials and cannabidiol, or CBD oil, which is being touted as a treatment for everything from sleeplessness to acne to heart disease.

Interest in hemp picked up with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill in December, which removed hemp from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of controlled substances and put it under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Unlike marijuana, industrial hemp doesn’t contain enough of the psychoactive chemical THC to give users a high.

The new rules call for the USDA to award hemp planting licenses to farmers but the agency has not yet regulated the process, meaning individual states are still issuing the licenses.

Industrial hemp plantings this year could double from the 78,176 acres seeded in 2018, said Eric Steenstra, president of advocacy group Vote Hemp. In 2017, 25,713 acres were planted on pilot programs authorized under the 2014 farm bill.

The U.S. hemp market is growing along with supply. U.S. sales of hemp reached $1.1 billion in 2018 and are projected to reach $1.9 billion by 2022, according to Vote Hemp and the Hemp Business Journal, a trade publication.

The profit potential is high: A good yield of food-grade hemp, for instance, can net farmers about $750 per acre, said Ken Anderson, founder of Prescott, Wisconsin-based hemp processor Legacy Hemp. Hemp seeds can be baked in to bread or sprinkled onto cereal or salads.

“That’s a profit that blows corn and wheat and everything else out of the water,” he said.

By comparison, soybeans bring in $150 or less per acre, and sales of the U.S. crop to China have fallen sharply since the onset of the trade war last year.

Before they can cash in on hemp, however, U.S. farmers must learn the science of producing an unfamiliar crop and wrestle with shifting regulations and other uncertainties.

“Nobody has any experience whatsoever,” said Rick Gash, 46, a businessman in Augusta, Kansas, who plans to grow his first-ever hemp crop on a horse pasture on his old family property.

NEW FRONTIER FOR REGULATION

CBD oil, which is concentrated in the hemp plant’s flowers, made up an estimated 23 percent of hemp sales in 2017, according to the Hemp Business Journal.

While the USDA oversees hemp planting, regulation of hemp products mostly falls to The Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Though the agency has not approved food and supplements containing CBD, such products are widely available and the agency has done little to curtail their sales.

Furthermore, the FDA mainly has jurisdiction over commerce between states, meaning products developed and sold locally in states that have more tolerant laws for hemp products is legal.

“To date, the FDA has only gone after people making aggressive claims – cancer treatment claims, AIDS treatment claims and the like,” said attorney Jonathan Havens, former FDA regulatory counsel and current co-chair of cannabis law practice at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr.

Other CBD products with no health claims or ‘soft’ claims have drawn no federal enforcement, he said, “causing many people to confuse availability with legality.”

The FDA said in a statement to Reuters it had developed a strategy to evaluate existing CBD products and create lawful pathways for bringing them to market. The agency knows some companies are marketing products containing hemp-derived compounds in ways that violate the law but has prioritized those making unwarranted health claims for enforcement action, the FDA said.

“Our biggest concern is the marketing of products that put the health and safety of consumers at greatest risk, such as those claiming to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure serious diseases, such as cancer,” the agency said in the statement.

CBD ICE CREAM?

Despite the uncertainty, analysts at U.S. financial services firm Cowen & Co estimate that products with CBD as an ingredient will generate $16 billion in retail sales for humans and animals in the U.S. by 2025.

Hemp seed is pictured at a salad bar at Whole Foods Market in Evanston, Illinois, U.S., June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Julie Ingwersen

Hemp seed is pictured at a salad bar at Whole Foods Market in Evanston, Illinois, U.S., June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Julie Ingwersen

Companies are also making big bets: Kroger Co, the nation’s largest grocery chain, said on Tuesday it plans to sell CBD creams, balms and oils in nearly 1,000 stores across 17 states.

Unilever Plc’s Ben & Jerry’s ice cream chain said in a May 30 statement it planned to debut CBD-infused ice cream flavors as soon as consuming the oil is “legalized at the federal level.”

In Kentucky, which launched a pilot program for hemp in 2014, farmers who used to grow tobacco are finding hemp grown for CBD oil to be a profitable alternative with a better reputation.

“When I was growing tobacco, everyone said I was growing something that’s bad for your health,” said Brian Furnish, an eighth-generation tobacco farmer. “It’s fun to grow something that is making people feel better.”

Farther west, in the U.S. midsection where farmers are more familiar with commodity crops like corn and wheat and have been more scarred by the trade war, some see hemp as a rotational crop grown on a larger scale for seed and fiber, rather than for its labor-intensive CBD oil.

Entrepreneur Rick Gash, founder and CEO of the Hemp Development Group LLC, surveys a field where he plans to grow industrial hemp near his home in Augusta, Kansas, U.S., May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Julie Ingwersen

Entrepreneur Rick Gash, founder and CEO of the Hemp Development Group LLC, surveys a field where he plans to grow industrial hemp near his home in Augusta, Kansas, U.S., May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Julie Ingwersen

EXPENSIVE SEED, HARVESTING BY HAND

The Kansas Department of Agriculture began issuing licenses to growers this spring, allowing the crop to be cultivated in the state this year for the first time in decades.

Jason Griffin, a specialist at Kansas State University, remains skeptical of the crop’s potential and cringes when he hears descriptions like ‘gold rush’ to describe it.

Beyond navigating changing regulations, expensive seed is one of many challenges that pioneering hemp farmers will face.

Special equipment for harvesting hemp may also be required, although some growers have been able to re-purpose the combines they already own. The hemp plant’s flowers are typically harvested by hand, while hemp for fiber is grown in fields and must be cut mechanically and dried in the field before storage.

Farmers are particularly dependent on the end buyers of hemp, as there are few third-party brokers to sell it as there are for other cash crops.

“You can’t just go to the local grain elevator and ask what’s your cash price for hemp grain right now,” said Legacy Hemp’s Anderson.

He often cautions farmers not to plant seeds until they have a contract with a buyer because prices vary widely. Legacy Hemp signs contracts with farmers before the planting season.

Other farmers are concerned over the long-term prospects. Montana wheat farmer Nathan Keane is growing female hemp plants exclusively for CBD oil, starting in a greenhouse and transplanting each plant later by hand.

“Honestly, I think the CBD thing is going to be a bubble,” he said. “I will ride the wave but I’m really hoping the sustainability of hemp is going to be in the grain and the fiber.”

(Reporting by Julie Ingwersen and David Randall; Additional reporting by Richa Naidu; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Brian Thevenot)

Thousands stranded, five killed, as heavy rain lashes south China

Residential houses and cars are seen submerged in floodwaters following heavy rainfall in Taihe county, Jian, Jiangxi province, China June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Thousands of people have been stranded and at least five killed amid torrential rain throughout central and southern China, with authorities bracing themselves for at least another four days of downpours, state media reported on Tuesday.

The official China Daily said floods had wiped out 10,800 hectares of crops and destroyed hundreds of houses in the Jiangxi province by Monday, with a total of 1.4 million people affected and direct economic losses amounting to 2.65 billion yuan ($382.41 million).

In the region of Guangxi in the southwest, 20,000 households had their power cut and roads, bridges and other infrastructures were severely damaged, the China Daily said.

Rainfall in Jiangxi reached as much as 688 millimeters (27 inches), according to a notice by China’s meteorological administration. It said rain in parts of Jiangxi and Hunan had hit record highs for June.

The administration said rainstorms were expected to spread to Guangdong, Fujian, Jiangxi, Yunnan, Sichuan and Taiwan by Thursday. It also warned authorities to be on their guard against severe thunderstorms and the possibility of small rivers bursting their banks in coming days.

(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Paul Tait)

Millions in central U.S. brace for ‘life-threatening’ blizzards, potential floods

Floodwaters flow along a street in Pullman, Washington, U.S. in this still image taken from April 9, 2019 social media video. ELLIE STENBERG/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A blizzard hitting the U.S. Rockies on Wednesday was forecast to move eastward over the next day, threatening to bring new flooding to the Plains states including parts of South Dakota and Missouri that are still recovering from last month’s inundation.

High spring temperatures will give way to heavy snow, gale-force winds and life-threatening conditions across a swathe of the central United States running from the Rockies to the Great Lakes, according to the National Weather Service.

“This is potentially a life-threatening storm,” Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center in Maryland, said Wednesday.

A sign for shops is seen as floodwaters flow along a street in Pullman, Washington, U.S. in this still image taken from April 9, 2019 social media video. ELLIE STENBERG/via REUTERS

A sign for shops is seen as floodwaters flow along a street in Pullman, Washington, U.S. in this still image taken from April 9, 2019 social media video. ELLIE STENBERG/via REUTERS

A cyclone last month dropped heavy rains over that region, causing extensive flooding along the Missouri River and more than $3 billion in damage to property and crops in Nebraska and Iowa.

Pueblo, Colorado, hit 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) on Tuesday, but will drop down to 25F (minus 4C) by early Thursday. Similar temperatures are forecast in Denver.

The storm is expected to bring blinding, heavy wet snow across the region, likely downing trees and causing widespread power outages, widespread road closures and making driving treacherous, Burke said.

“It’s slow moving. It won’t push farther east until Friday,” he said.

Some areas of western Minnesota and southeast South Dakota were expected to get up to 30 inches of wet, heavy snow, the NWS said.

Two factors may limit the flooding effect, forecasters said. Thawed ground will be able to absorb more precipitation than last month’s frozen ground and a fall of heavy snow rather than rain will slow the runoff process.

Nearly 500 flights were canceled at Denver International Airport on Wednesday, about a quarter of its total schedule, according to FlightAware.com, an airline tracking website.

Airport officials said they had snow-removal crews in place.

The coming storm was expected to exacerbate flooding along the Missouri River in areas where dozens of levees were breached in March, exposing communities to future surges. The river was not expected to crest in areas of Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri until between three to five days after the storm.

The storm is expected to weaken and push off into the Great Lakes area and northern Michigan on Friday, bringing more rain and snow, the weather service said.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Alison Williams and Susan Thomas)

Sanctions-hit North Korea warns of natural disaster brought by heat wave

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters on top of a 160-metre tower in North Korea's propaganda village of Gijungdong, in this picture taken from the Tae Sung freedom village near the Military Demarcation Line (MDL), inside the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, in Paju, South Korea, April 24, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea on Thursday called for an “all-out battle” against record temperatures that threaten crops in a country already grappling with tough international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.

The resulting drought has brought an “unprecedented natural disaster”, the isolated nation said, warning against crop damage that could savage its farm-reliant economy, battered by sanctions despite recent diplomatic overtures.

“This high-temperature phenomenon is the largest, unprecedented natural disaster, but not an obstacle we cannot overcome,” the North’s Rodong Sinmun said, urging that “all capabilities” be mobilized to fight the extended dry spell.

Temperatures have topped a record 40°C (104°F) in some regions since late July, and crops such as rice and maize have begun to show signs of damage, the mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party said in a front-page commentary.

“Whether the current good crop conditions, for which the whole nation has made unsparing investment and sweated until now, will lead to a bumper year in the autumn hinges on how we overcome the heat and drought,” it added.

Similar past warnings in state media have served to drum up foreign assistance and boost domestic unity.

“I think the message was a precautionary one to minimize any impact on daily life,” said Dong Yong-seung, who runs Good Farmers, a group based in Seoul, capital of neighboring South Korea, that explores farm projects with the North.

But the mention of unprecedented weather, and a series of related articles, suggest the heat wave could further strain its capacity to respond to natural disasters, said Kim Young-hee, a defector from North Korea and an expert on its economy at Korea Finance Corp in Seoul.

The warning comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced in April a shift in focus from nuclear programs to the economy, and held an unprecedented June summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore.

Since then, the young leader has toured industrial facilities and special economic zones near the North’s border with China, a move experts saw as a bid to spur economic development nationwide.

“He has been highlighting his people-loving image and priority on the economy but the reality is he doesn’t have the institutions to take a proper response to heat, other than opening underground shelters,” added Kim, the economist.

GOOD CROP CONDITIONS

Drought and floods have long been a seasonal threat in North Korea, which lacks irrigation systems and other infrastructure to ward off natural disasters.

Last year, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation warned of the North’s worst drought in 16 years, but late summer rains and privately produced crops helped avert acute shortages.

There appear to be no immediate signs of major suffering in the North, with rice prices stable around 62 U.S. cents per kg through the year to Tuesday, a Reuters analysis of data compiled by the Daily NK website showed.

The website is run by defectors who gather prices through telephone calls to traders in the North, gaining a rare glimpse into the lives of ordinary citizens.

Crops are good this year because there was little flooding to disrupt the early spring planting season, said Kang Mi-jin of the Daily NK, based in Seoul.

“They say nothing remains where water flowed away, but there is something to harvest after the heat,” Kang said, citing defectors. “Market prices are mainly determined by Chinese supplies and private produce, rather than crop conditions.”

The October harvest would reveal any havoc wreaked by the weather, Kim Young-hee added.

North Korea suffered a crippling famine in the 1990s when a combination of bad weather, economic mismanagement and the demise of fuel subsidies from the Soviet Union all but destroyed its state rationing system.

However, rationing has slowly been overtaken by an increase in foreign products, mainly from China, and privately produced food sold in North Korean markets, a factor experts say U.N. reports overlook.

The neighbors are in talks to help the North modernize its economy, step up disaster response measures and expand forests in a follow-up to April’s historic summit between Kim and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in.

Across the border, temperatures hit 39.6°C (103.28°F) in Seoul on Wednesday, their highest since weather authorities began monitoring in 1907. The heat has caused 29 deaths and injuries to more than 2,350 people, health officials have said.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Editing by Soyoung Kim and Clarence Fernandez)

Snowstorm, high winds, targets northern U.S. Plains, may stall spring planting

By Julie Ingwersen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A blizzard is expected to bring high winds and 12 inches (30 cm) of snow or more to parts of South Dakota and Nebraska on Friday and Saturday, an agricultural meteorologist said on Thursday.

The snowfall, along with cold temperatures in the wake of the storm, could delay the planting of corn and spring wheat in the Dakotas and Minnesota into May.

Nebraska and Minnesota were the No. 3 and 4 corn producers last year in the United States, the world’s top supplier of the feed grain, and South Dakota was No. 6. For spring wheat, North Dakota and Minnesota are the top two U.S. growers.

“In addition to adding on to the snow pack in the northern Plains, it’s also a persistently cold pattern going forward,” said Joel Widenor, meteorologist with the Commodity Weather Group, adding, “It’s going to make it tough to dry out the soil.”

The storm should dump 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) of snow across parts of South Dakota, Widenor said. The National Weather Service projected 12 to 18 inches across northern Nebraska and posted blizzard warnings for both states.

“At this point, it seems like it’s going to be out into May before we get our first chance at some warming,” Widenor said.

He noted that in a typical year, farmers in the Dakotas, Minnesota and Nebraska by mid-May are at least halfway finished with seeding corn and spring wheat.

RAIN CHANCES IMPROVE FOR SOUTHERN PLAINS

Forecasting models indicated that another storm late next week could bring much-needed rain to the southern U.S. Plains winter wheat belt, although meteorologists were skeptical.

“The models definitely shifted wetter today versus where they have been the last couple days. But we are still very low confidence on that,” Widenor said.

The region’s hard red winter wheat has struggled with months of drought. The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday rated 30 percent of the overall U.S. winter wheat crop in good to excellent condition, compared with 32 percent the previous week and 53 percent a year ago.

Widenor said his firm’s current forecast called for about half of the Plains hard red winter wheat belt to receive 0.25 to 1 inch of rain from the storm arriving April 20, with the other half, including west Texas, western Oklahoma and southwest Kansas, missing out.

(Reporting by Julie Ingwersen; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

World has just months to stop starvation in Yemen, Somalia: Red Cross

People queue to collect food rations at a food distribution center in Sanaa, Yemen March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – The world has got just three to four months to save millions of people in Yemen and Somalia from starvation, as drought and war wreck crops and block aid across the region, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday.

The agency said it needed $300 million to fund its work in those countries and other trouble spots in South Sudan and northeast Nigeria.

“We have probably a window of three to four months to avoid a worst case scenario,” Dominik Stillhart, the ICRC’s director of operations worldwide, told a Geneva news briefing.

“We have a kind of perfect storm where protracted conflict is overlapped, exacerbated by natural hazard, drought in particular in the Horn of Africa that is leading to the situation we are facing now,” he said.

More than 20 million people are facing famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria, say aid agencies.

Cholera, which can be deadly for children, is on the rise in Somalia, while an average of 20 people in Yemen are dying each day from disease or war wounds, ICRC officials said.

The ICRC appealed for $400 million for its operations in the four countries this year, but has received only $100 million so far, it said.

The United Nations has appealed for about $5.6 billion, bringing total funding needs to $6 billion, Stillhart said.

“There are significant needs and of course there are serious concerns in terms of having funding available sufficiently fast in order to avert what I said was a large-scale starvation,” he said.

“In 2011 the response was too slow and too late leading to starvation of 260,000 people in Somalia alone,” he warned.

Robert Mardini, ICRC regional director for the Middle East, said that an ICRC team who provided aid to wounded refugees after a helicopter attack killed more than 40 on their boat off the Yemen coast last Friday had collected “evidence”.

The evidence and ICRC concerns were shared with the Saudi-led coalition as well as the Houthi side, he said, declining to give more details.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Tom Miles)