Clouds of locusts are ravaging crops in East Africa, which is experiencing its worst invasion in 25 years. The climatic conditions and the lack of resources raise fears of a worsening of the situation, as locusts can devour the equivalent of 400,000 tons of food per day.
From the fields of corn, sorghum, and millet, there is nothing left. On this Kenyan farm, cows are desperately looking for food among the land devoured by the swarms of locusts that darken the sky and have been falling on the African horn since January. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) describes the situation as “extremely worrying” in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia, and the invasion threatens to spread to Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, where “the locust number is increasing alarmingly.”
Desert locusts return periodically to Africa, with the last invasion occurring in 2007, but on a much smaller scale. This year’s crisis is Africa’s worst in 25 years, FAO says. In Kenya, where more than 70,000 hectares have already disappeared, such a phenomenon had not been observed since 1961.
Swarms 500 times bigger by June
Insect proliferation is favored by climatic conditions, with heavy rains in October and December. “This has created the ideal conditions for locust reproduction, which could accelerate in the next six months as temperatures rise,” warns Keith Cressman, who is worried about FAO in charge of the subject. Without control measures, swarms could become 500 times larger by June. Especially since the rains resumed in January in northern Kenya, causing locusts to multiply even more.
Spraying fields with pesticides
The Kenyan government has set up a crisis committee. The only measure considered effective is to spray pesticide fields preemptively when locusts are still in the nymph stage and cannot fly. But the resources deployed are largely insufficient and locusts continue to pour in from neighboring Somalia, which has taken no action. So far, farmers have been relatively spared, their fields having already been harvested.
But if the crisis is not contained by the start of the next planting season, around March, they could see their harvest wiped out. Farmers, who have just endured three years of drought, are already heavily affected. Between the fires in Australia, the coronavirus epidemic in China and locusts in Africa, 2020 is not shaping up to be the best year.