The locust outbreaks in East Africa prove disastrous for a region still reeling from drought and deadly flood.
Dense clouds of the ravenous insects, each of which consumes its own weight in food every day, have spread from Ethiopia and Somalia into Kenya, in the region’s worse infestation in decades.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated one swarm in Kenya at around 2,400 square kilometres (about 930 square miles) – an area almost the size of Moscow. This size means that area could contain up to 200 billion locusts.
According to the FAO, this locust outbreak is the biggest in Ethiopia and Somalia in 25 years, and the biggest in Kenya in 70 years.
The locust outbreaks in East Africa has caused severe damages to food crops like corn, sorghum, cowpeas; it has also damaged farms.
If unchecked, locust numbers could increase 500 times by June, spreading to Uganda and South Sudan. It will become a plague that will devastate crops and pasture in a region which is already one of the poorest and most vulnerable in the world.
According to Guleid Artan, from regional expert group the Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), the spread of the locusts could lead to “a major food security problem”.
Mr Artan explains that the locusts are the latest symptom of extreme conditions that saw 2019 start with a drought and end in one of the wettest rainy seasons in four decades in some parts – with floods killing hundreds across East Africa.
The FAO says the current invasion is known as an “upsurge” – when an entire region is affected – however, if it gets worse and cannot be contained, over a year or more, it will become what is known as a “plague” of locusts.
Combatting Locust Outbreak and Food Security Problem
There have been six major desert locust plagues in the 1900s, the last of which was in 1987-1989. The last major upsurge was in 2003-2005.
David Phiri, FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for Eastern Africa has said that measures must be taken to combat and contain this locust invasion. As the rains that start in March will bring a new wave of locust breeding. The periods before March is, therefore, the best time to control the locust swarms and safeguard people’s livelihoods and food security and avert further worsening of the food crisis.
About $70m is needed to step up aerial pesticide spraying, the only effective way to combat them, according to the UN.