Weeks before the coronavirus spread through much of the world, parts of Africa were already threatened by another kind of plague. Billions of desert locusts, some in swarms the size of Moscow, have already chomped their way through much of East Africa, including Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan, and Uganda.
Unfortunately, because of other things going on around the world, people are forgetting about the problem with the locusts. It is a very big problem; this is the biggest locust outbreak some countries had seen in 70 years. Their breeding has been spurred by one of the wettest rainy seasons in the region in four decades
Desert locust is the world’s most dangerous and destructive migratory. Perhaps most infamously, the eighth plague of Egypt in The Book of Exodus set the stage for both early and on-going views of locusts as malevolent creatures. They are highly voracious, as a single adult locust can consume vegetation equivalent to its weight (approximately 2 grams) in a day. Locust swarms are highly mobile and can fly across continents and destroy entire livelihoods in less than six hours, with adult swarms flying about 150km daily. A small size swarm (approx. 40 million locusts) can demolish the equivalent amount of food that 35,000 people would eat in a day.
The on-going spread of locusts in the region represents “an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods at the beginning of the upcoming cropping season,” U.N. officials said.
The locust crisis is forcing governments to fight on two fronts. There’s the battle to contain COVID-19, which has already infected more than one million people and has severely impacted the global economy. And then there’s the fight to control the locust infestation that’s decimating millions of hectares of crops, leaving behind barren fields and devastated farmers with little or nothing left to harvest. In Djibouti, it is estimated that over 1.700 agro-pastoral farms across the country and nearly 50,000 hectares of pastureland have been destroyed by the swarms. Locusts have also torn through large swathes of the horn of Africa, where more than 24 million people are internally displaced.
Desert locust affects food security by destroying crops, thus, affecting the availability of food for human populations. They also feed on grasses and other wild vegetation affecting livestock and wild animals. Global trade on agricultural commodities also suffers a great deal due to the destruction of crops. Additionally, locust outbreak response and control are costly as millions of liters of pesticides have to be bought, and the necessary equipment and labor acquired.
Locust control quite often results in many environment-related side effects due to the high use of pesticides and others. Many times, it is difficult to discriminate between the locust swarms and other non-harmful organisms and vegetation, raising the cost of collateral damage to the environment. Further, the possibility of human intoxication by the chemical pesticides used is always looming
Locust plagues can be difficult to control in normal circumstances, requiring cooperation across borders to destroy swarms before they multiply and equipment like airplanes that aren’t always readily available. The COVID-19 pandemic will make things even more challenging. Already, disrupted supply chains are delaying the delivery of locust control equipment and inhibiting access to critical materials and services. Lockdowns and travel restrictions are also preventing response teams from reaching areas that desperately need their advice and expertise.
Though affected countries are being stretched thin and challenged by the pandemic, it’s critical to act now to prevent further devastation and the threat of multi-year famine. And the development community must stand with them to offer support.
Ethiopia food crisis [Accessed from TheJournal.ie on 15th April 2020]
Locust attack in East Africa [Accessed from washingtonpost.com on 15th April 2020]