A new ‘Day of the Locust’: East African agriculture faces a devastating threat
Ethiopian, Kenyan and Somalian farmers are dealing with desert locust swarms of “unprecedented size and destructive potential” that could spill over into more countries in East Africa, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned.
One of the 10 biblical plagues said to have been delivered upon Egypt, the locust has struck dread into the hearts of farmers for millennia. And with good reason.
Claiming its crown as the oldest migratory pest in the world, the average adult locust can eat its own bodyweight (roughly two grams) in fresh plant vegetation every day. And thick swarms – potentially containing hundreds of millions of individual insects – can move at an alarming clip: 150km a day. Added to that, with good rainfall and favourable ecological conditions, the insects swiftly reproduce and numbers can increase 20-fold in just three months.
Unseasonal rains that drenched East Africa in December have caused the population of the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) – considered the most destructive locust species – to positively skyrocket, devastating rural livelihoods in the process.
With hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland already destroyed by blanket swarms of the indefatigable pest, the threat to food security is becoming more real by the day. In response, the FAO – a UN agency – has urged for a collective campaign to tackle the crisis, concerned over the risk that swarms will spill into more countries in East Africa, “if efforts to deal with the voracious pest are not scaled up across the region”. The agency stressed that as favourable breeding conditions continue, the increase in locust swarms could last until June. And left unchecked, the numbers of crop-devouring insects could grow 500-fold over that time period.
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