A locust crisis in Africa amidst a global pandemic

Despite the shifted media attention from the locust menace, efforts aimed at curbing their invasion are still underway.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO rated this as the worst desert locust invasion in decades. According to their latest situational update on 14 April, the experts anticipate a spike in their numbers prompted by heavy downpours experienced in March. 

In Africa, the locust menace has now been recorded in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, and South Sudan. Currently, there is an aerial and ground operation trying to curb their numbers. Unfortunately, the wet showers that come before the long rains will keep them at bay.

The impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic has affected the movement of personnel and equipment, slowing down the UN food agency’s acquisition of motorized sprayers and pesticides. In Kenya for instance, people fighting the locust upsurge through aerial and ground control measures are unaffected are they are exempted from the lockdown. FAO estimates over 240,000 hectares have been sprayed with biopesticides and chemical pesticides across East Africa.

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Out of the $153.2 million pledged by the UN body, only $111.1 million has been pledged by donors and well-wishers, or actually received. On April 14, Kenya secured an additional Ksh 2 billion from the FAO to help prevent a resurgence of the locusts. Thus far the country will have received Ksh 4 billion in total. Experts are giving a positive outlook that the locust pandemic will not significantly affect the food security of the 50 million people countrywide. 

Farmers throughout the region are still reporting unprecedented levels of locust infestation. In Kenya, the infestation is most prevalent in Mandera and other northern counties. Presently, the insects are laying eggs rather than migrating due to the wet conditions. The next few months will see those eggs mature into new locusts that will develop into new swarms by late June and July - right around the harvest season. 

A new report from the UN indicates that another swarm of young voracious eaters is on the move from their breeding grounds in Somalia. Experts are worried that the second wave of locusts might be 20 times worse than the first one.

FAO has urged residents of countries affected by locusts to use the eLocust3 app to transmit real-time data through satellite to national locust centers. All data is then remitted to the Data Locust Information Service (DLIS) in Rome.

Desert locusts are known for their destructive nature and migratory pattern. A swarm of the pest can extend across a square kilometer, comprising over 80 million locusts. On January 25, FAO gave a warning on the threat of food security and its impact on the livelihoods of residents across East Africa. A swarm covering a third of a square mile can consume as much food as 35,000 people in a single day. If they continue to migrate, you can imagine the magnitude and scale of the damage.