Locust Invasion of East Africa

Calista Self, Staff Writer

East Africa is currently suffering from a massive invasion of locust, threating food security throughout the region. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has said that Africa is experiencing the worst invasion of locust in over 25 years. Over 19 million people live in East African and already have trouble securing food. The FAO is urgently asking other countries to donate $70 million in emergency funding to help fight the locust and protect future crops. The locust could potentially spread to other parts of Africa if not stopped.

Desert locust are short-horned grasshoppers that gather at the massive and swarm to food sources. Because they have the ability to swarm, they can travel fast and cover larger distances. They are a major threat to crops and is a huge contributing factor to famines, especially in Africa. These inspects are often associated with The Bible and have been featured in movies like The Mummy (1999). There are two phases that the locust has which are important to their swarming. The two phases are solitary and the gregarious phase. The in solitary phase, the locust do not group together. However, they can move independently and will be greenish in color. In the gregarious phase, the locust will swarm and group together. They became a brownish color and are able to blend in with their environment. The desert locust feeds on leaves, fruit, shoots, flowers, bark, seeds, and stems. Not only are locust a threat to crops, but they consume noncrop plants such as sugarcane and cotton. The desert locust can travel up to 80 miles or more in just one day. They do not attack animals or people and currently there is no evidence that the desert locust carries diseases that can spread to humans.

Kenya’s government is currently spending over $5 million dollars to attempt to prevent future spreading and manage the massive swarms. In the 1920s-1930s, African and Asian countries began developing ways to control the locust outbreaks. The best way to control the desert locust is with insecticides. Insecticides are chemical substances used to kill insects, eggs, and larvae. Insecticides are used to increase agricultural productivity. Although most farmers use insecticide, some use the desert locust’s natural enemies. This includes using birds and reptiles to eat the locust.

There is scientific evidence to show that partial blame for the locust outbreak in Africa is due to global warming. East Africa had a different year in terms of rain patterns. They received large amounts of rains between the months of October and December. The warming waters from the Indian Ocean produced more typical storms in 2019 which caused the large amount of raining to the region. This caused East Africa to have a wet year of 2019. This made the excellent living and growing conditions for the locust. “The land is perfect for the locust to breed for the next six months” said Keith Cressman, FAO’s senior locust officer in forecasting. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says that if the desert locust situation isn’t dealt with, the swarms could grow 400 times bigger by the beginning of summer 2020. The FAO is predicting a plague if the swarms are not contained quickly, furthering threating the spread of the locust and food. It is estimated that one swarm, the size of Paris, can eat as much food as half the population of France according to the FAO.

If you want to get more involved, the FAO is seeking donations for food and pest control. You can go to the FAO’s website or twitter account, @FAOKnowledge, to follow up with the desert locust outbreak. Also, look for the hashtag #desertlocust or #HornofAfrica to get updates on the situation.