Desert Locust Swarms Threaten East Africa

December 23, 2020

A new massive wave of desert locust swarms threaten East Africa and Yemen, countries already hit by poverty, food insecurity and war.

In a recent press release, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reported that “a new wave of Desert Locust swarms is threatening agricultural and pastoral livelihoods and the food security of millions of people in the Horn of Africa and Yemen despite intense efforts to control the pest throughout 2020”.

This desert locust outbreak – which is the worst for East Africa in 25 years – bursted in January 2020, and is still blighting crops and pushing affected communities to the brink of starvation. Massive locust infestations are soaring once again in Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea and Sudan, as well as in Kenya, and Yemen – countries already hit by poverty and war – causing considerable crop failure and food insecurity in the region.

According to FAO, “the Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is the most destructive migratory pest in the world. In response to environmental stimuli, dense and highly mobile Desert Locust swarms can form. They are ravenous eaters who consume their own weight per day, targeting food crops and forage. Just a single square kilometer of swarm can contain up to 80 million adults, with the capacity to consume the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people. Large swarms pose a major threat to food security and rural livelihoods.”

“Favourable weather conditions”, FAO explains, “and widespread seasonal rains have caused extensive breeding in eastern Ethiopia and Somalia. This was worsened by Cyclone Gati which brought flooding to northern Somalia last month allowing locust infestations to increase further in the coming months. New locust swarms are already forming and threatening to re-invade northern Kenya and breeding is also underway on both sides of the Red Sea, posing a new threat to Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan and Yemen.”

At the end of 2020, East Africa is already going through its worst locust outbreak in several decades – the worst seen in Kenya in seven decades and the worst for East Africa in 25 years. The FAO warns that more than 35 million people in the worst affected countries, namely Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, are already facing acute food insecurity due to recurrent drought, conflict, high food prices and the covid pandemic.

Efforts made in 2020 were not enough to stop the desert locust swarms, especially in war-torn countries such as Somalia and Yemen where operations had to be ceased due to the ongoing conflicts. “We have achieved much, but the battle against this relentless pest is not yet over”, declared QU Dongyu, the Director-General of FAO, “We must not waver. Locusts keep growing day and night and risks are exacerbating food insecurity for vulnerable families across the affected region.”

FAO Press Release
FAO Desert Locust