The threat of desert-locust infestation again in Africa, the spread of billions of descendants
By Amila Khan
Last year, locust infestations caused extensive crop damage in East Africa. It is said that this has never happened in the history of the past 70 years.
The United Nations has warned that the livelihoods of millions of people across East Africa and several countries in the Arab world are once again in grave danger due to the swarming of desert locusts in flocks.
Then there have been unsuccessful attempts to control these locusts by spraying lots of pesticides. But the United Nations says it doesn’t seem to have done much, or that what happened is less than necessary.
The United Nations says eastern Ethiopia and Somalia still maintain ideal conditions for the spread of these desert locusts, putting Kenya at risk.
Researchers say that locusts are spreading in large numbers on both sides of the Red Sea; thus, the surrounding areas, including Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, are under renewed threat. This kind of locust attack in East Africa this year is unprecedented in the history of the last seventy years.
“The threat is very high in Kenya, from today onwards, locusts can strike at any time,” Mr. Keith Kresman, a senior official at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, told the BBC, who works on predicting locust attacks.
“This time, the situation could be the same as last time or even worse. Because the locusts are growing in an area of 3.5 lakh square kilometers in different countries as the weather is favorable for them.”
From January to August this year, hundreds of millions of locusts invaded Asian countries from East Africa, causing widespread crop losses, food crises, and economic instability and catastrophe.
“We have lost all the necessary plants, including our pastures, due to locust infestations, which is why so many of our livestock are still dying, and we are having trouble in making herbal medicines,” said Ganzoba Guio, a livestock farmer in northern Kenya.
“I lost 14 goats, four cows, and two camels due to the locust infestation,” he said. There are still fears that we may face a similar situation again or that the consequences could be worse or worsen than before.”
UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) officials said, however, the region’s countries are now better prepared than before to deal with the situation.
However, they say, this time there is more surveillance, better preparation – such as spraying pesticides on the ground or the aircraft. More than one million acres of land in ten countries have been given medicine to control insect infestation. But now, there is still a fear among the locals that what will happen if locusts’ swarms become too large? They may become helpless.
But why such a situation is created this time? Why are so many locusts being born in this region?
Experts say this year’s rainy season has seen heavy rainfall in central Somalia and eastern Ethiopia, and the average rainfall from September to November was above average. This has resulted in the emergence of various types of weeds and abundant vegetation in the land, which is fertile for locusts.
Mr. Kresman said, “This weather has created a favorable environment for locust breeding, which has resulted in a large number of locusts being born in these areas.” Under such circumstances, swarms of locusts may appear within a few months or less.
At first, the locusts stay as a wingless grasshopper, and then their wings grow. Then they began to flock in pace with the weather.
A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) found that desert locusts reproduce rapidly and could increase by 160,000 times or more in a single year.
The weather in northern Somalia is parched. This makes it very difficult for locusts to survive there. But the environment has changed dramatically since the cyclone hit last November. There has been the equivalent of two years of rainfall in just two days, which is unimaginable and surprising.
On the contrary, locusts breeding in those regions are supposed to be hostile, but it has become conducive to their reproduction. Due to accumulated water on land by floods, an ideal environment has been created for locusts to lay their eggs. At the same time, the abundant vegetation that grows there also provides them with food.
Somalia is one of the countries in the region that has been hit the hardest this year by desert locust attacks.
Experts say surveillance in the affected areas has made it possible to keep locusts away from those areas. They warned that it is impossible to do so in areas where the law and order situation is not under control.
“South Somalia can be mentioned as an example, where there was no surveillance,” said Mr. Kresman. Officials say there is also a favorable environment for desert locusts to breed in various parts of Yemen. However, it has not been possible to monitor some areas in the last few years due to conflict and war.
Experts say that many locusts are also moving from Saudi Arabia to Yemen. They said that these locusts could cross the Red Sea at a distance of more or less three hundred kilometers because of their ability to fly for long periods.
Various countries in the region are also ready to use pesticides if the situation worsens. These pesticides will be sprayed from the ground and the sky.
A statement from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said, “As a result of various pest control programs, it has been possible to save about 27 lakh tones of cereals with a financial value of USD 800 million.
These countries are now suffering from a food crisis and poverty.” But experts mentioned some more ways which are essential to finding to handle the situation.
“We have maintained surveillance, but we have not been provided with any equipment or pesticides for spraying,” said Jeremiah Lecoli, an environmental scientist involved in locust surveillance in northern Kenya’s Marsabit area. He also added that It is also crucial to have pesticides. Otherwise, locusts will come and cause huge damage.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has warned that 3.5 crore people are already suffering from a food crisis in the five affected countries. They also said that if the current locust outbreak is not dealt with, their numbers could increase by another 35-40 lakh (3.5-4 million) in number.