A farmer amidst a Desert Locust swarm feeding on crops. Kitui county, Kenya, January 2020.
Photo: ©FAO/Sven Torfinn

Desert Locusts plague in East Africa

East Africa is facing Desert Locust swarms of an unprecedented size and the potential for exponential expansion, threatening food security of the entire subregion.

Desert Locust swarms threaten food security in East Africa, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned in January 2020. The swarms in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are already unprecedented in their size and destructive potential. They could swell exponentially and spill over into more countries in East Africa if efforts to deal with the pest are not massively scaled-up across the region, FAO says.

Recent weather in East Africa has created conditions that favour rapid locust reproduction. Left unchecked, the numbers of crop-devouring insects there could grow 500 times by June.

Such swarms are potentially containing hundreds of millions of individual Desert Locusts. They can move 150 kilometres a day, devastating rural livelihoods in their relentless drive to eat and reproduce. A Desert Locust devours its own weight in food per day - about two grams.

Swarms are rapidly spreading
 

Swarms continue to pour into Kenya from Ethiopia and Somalia and are rapidly spreading to the centre of the country. 

In Ethiopia, the insects are moving steadily south towards the Rift Valley, the country's breadbasket.

Ethiopia and Somalia have not seen Desert Locust swarms of this scale in 25 years, while Kenya has not faced a locust threat of this magnitude in 70 years.
South Sudan and Uganda are not currently affected, but are at risk. 

Aerial control is the only effective means 
 

The speed of the pest's spread and the size of the infestations are so far beyond the norm that they have stretched the capacities of local and national authorities to the limit.

Given the scale of the current swarms, aerial control is the only effective means to reduce the locust numbers, according to FAO. Aerial operations need to be upscaled substantially and very quickly in Ethiopia and Kenya. 

At this stage and on the basis of conservative estimates, FAO seeks USD 70 million to urgently support both pest control and livelihood protection operations in the three most affected countries.

Desert Locusts also threatening Southwest Asia and Red Sea 
 

In India, Iran and Pakistan numerous Desert Locust swarms have been present since June 2019 and have been breeding. Some of these swarms have migrated to southern Iran where, recent heavy rains allowed them to lay eggs that could turn into swarms in spring 2020.

Egypt, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen are also seeing substantial breeding activity that could see locust bands expand into swarms in the coming months

(FAO/ile)

Read more at FAO website: www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1257973/icode/

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