African Locusts Reach ‘Biblical Proportions,’ Famine Looms

“Triggered by the climate crisis, the outbreak is making the dire food security situation in East Africa even worse.” – U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres

“They even ate watermelons … “

Jan 31, 2020

SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN – Locust swarms of biblical proportions are threatening crops across a wide swath of Africa and southwest Asia—spurring alarm among top international officials.

A major concern is famine. The United Nations is warning that mass swarms of desert locusts are endangering food supplies in eastern Africa.

In response, officials in Rome mobilized an emergency briefing yesterday in a bid to raise money—noting the situation has a high potential to devolve into a full-blown crisis.

“This is an unprecedented situation that we are facing,” said Dominique Burgeon, an emergency services director at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

He said the locust infestation in Africa is now FAO’s top priority.

“The billions of voracious insects darkening the skies of East Africa are desert locusts, a large herbivore that resembles a grasshopper.” – Deutsche Welle, Jan 31, 2020 

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said he delivered a personal plea for help to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and received assurances of support from the United States. The U.S. Agency for International Development says it released $800,000 to support FAO’s response in eastern Africa.

Cyclones that struck the driest parts of the Arabian Peninsula last year triggered the current crisis, creating ideal conditions for the desert locust species to multiply. Left to breed in isolated corners of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, the locust swarms crossed to the Horn of Africa where they were given further support by another cyclone.

More breeding cycles are expected. The swarms increase in size twentyfold with each successive generation and could reach India by June.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres took to Twitter yesterday in an effort to draw global attention to the worsening outbreak. The swarms are now threatening farms in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia but are expected to spread to neighboring countries soon.

The U.N. chief pinned blame for the crisis squarely on global warming. “Desert locusts are extremely dangerous,” Guterres wrote … READ MORE. 

Kenyan Farmers Hit by Worst Locust Swarms in 70 Years

VOICE OF AMERICA, KITUI COUNTY, KENYA – Kenyan farmer Theophilas Kimanzi was expecting a bountiful harvest this season.

But one morning last week, he woke up to find desert locusts had eaten all his crops.

“They feasted on the maize, green grams, they even ate watermelons,” Kimanzi said. “They also ate what was meant for our cows and goats. We have nothing much to do apart from asking the government for help.”

Besides Kenya, the record locust swarms have also hit parts of Ethiopia and Somalia, devouring crops and pastures.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says it is East Africa’s worst desert locust invasion in 25 years, and for Kenya — the worst in 70 years.

Authorities have deployed aircraft to spray and kill the locusts before they spread to neighboring South Sudan and Uganda.

Stephen Njoka is the director of the Eastern Africa Desert Locust Control Organization.

“In Ethiopia, the organization has deployed two aircrafts and they have been operating there since August and up to now, the locusts are still there,” Njoka said. “In Kenya, the locusts came here on the 28th December and, immediately working with the Ministry of Agriculture, we deployed our two aircrafts.”

Meanwhile, farmers like Kimanzi have tried everything from burning tires to making noise to try to chase away the pests.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a northeast Africa trade bloc, said more help is needed in the fight against locusts.

Guleid Artan is the director of IGAD’s Climate Prediction and Application Center.

“If this is not dealt with quickly, and timely, this will have a serious effect on the food security of the region.” Artan said. “From the last report from the Global Food Security Crisis group, there were 27 million people who were in need of food aid. Around 13 (million) were due to climate that was recovering because of the rain we received. That will worsen if this is not dealt with in time.” … Read more.