The current change in the climatic conditions including heavy rain in many parts of eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa have favored the breeding of desert locusts and the UN is predicting that the continuation of these kind of ecological conditions will further exacerbate their rapid spread to other regions in Africa.

The Region’s Worst Crisis In A Quarter Century

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that the current outbreak is the most awful situation in 25 years and could multiply 500 times by midway throgh this year. The infestation remains the most serious threats to food producing areas as their destructive nature is not yet controlled in the regions encompassing Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda.

According to the FAO, the desert locust is the most dangerous of the nearly one dozen species of locusts. It is normally present in the desert areas across 20 countries between West Africa and India, covering nearly 16 million square kilometres. Locust swarms are massive and can contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometer. Swarms migrate with the wind and can cover 100 to 150 kilometers in a day at a speed of 16km/hr. An average swarm can destroy as many food crops in one day as is sufficient to feed 2,500 people and provide equivalent biomass for fertilizing pastures.

Locust Swarms Have Invaded Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia

According  to the Desert Locust watch updates by FAO, the insects have  already invaded more than 13 counties in Kenya while in Ethiopia they are at the eastern part including Ogaden. Somalia’s northeastern border with Kenya is experiencing locust swarms as well. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of crucial agricultural land have been destroyed.

The Locust Watch updates further reported that South Sudan and Uganda are in danger from locusts. The nearest swarms are about 200 km away in Kenya and a few of these swarms could appear at any time in the coming days in the extreme southeast of South Sudan and, to a lesser extent, in northeast Uganda. In addition to the Horn of Africa, there are several other hot spots where important desert locust infestations are developing. In Djibouti a few swarms were reported near Ali Sabieh and the Ethiopian border. Meanwhile in Eritrea at least one swarm arrived on the southern coast near Assab on Jan. 20 either from Yemen or Ethiopia. But in the affected countries ground control are underway as well as aerial sprays to combat the insects’ spread.

Kenya: Half A Million Hectares Are Destroyed

Kenya’s ministry of agriculture estimated that about 500,000 hectares of pasture and crop land have been destroyed in Northern and some parts of Eastern Kenya. Through a press statement via Mandera Media Agency on Jan. 8, the Governor of Mandera County in Kenya H. E. Ali Rob said most of the counties were caught unprepared.

“Unfortunately counties are ill prepared technically, financially and we lack the capacity and expertise to handle such disastrous invasion by locusts,” he said, adding that there is urgent need for a simultaneous multi-agency approach in all its sub-counties to salvage the situation.

The  Horn of Africa is one of the most food insecure regions in Africa due to climate change, conflict and economic instability exposing 27 million people living in  that vast pastoral areas to famine. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) warned late last year that another 20 million people risk falling into famine.

However, the desert locust outbreak could make the situation for agriculture even worse in terms of damage to croplands and pastures. When locusts ruin these lands it results in direct economic loss to both farmers and pastoral communities affecting agricultural growth and rural livelihoods and posing a high risk to food security.

Dr David Phiri, FAO Sub regional Coordinator for the Eastern and Representative of the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa acknowledged the serious pressures exerted on agriculture if the situation remained unchecked immediately.

“The locust is making the bad food security situation worse in the sub-region, exacerbating the existing dire food insecurity and malnutrition in the sub-region,” Phiri warned.

Working Together To Eradicate The Locusts

The FAO is assisting with forecasts, early warning and alerts on the timing, scale and location of invasions and breeding. While IGAD’s Executive Secretary Dr. Workneh Gebeyehu urged on its member states the East African Community and partners to pull resources together to prevent, control and possibly eradicate the desert locust threat to the food security of the region.

“Prevention and control measures must be scaled up to contain further spread of the Desert Locust. Countries must act urgently to avoid a food security crisis in the region,” Workneh said.

The affected countries are also scaling up their control mechanisms whereby ground control measures are underway as well as aerial sprays to combat the insect infestation. Additionally, the UN is seeking $70 million to urgently support both pest control and livelihood protection operations in the three most affected countries. As part of the recovery strategy from recent droughts, UN officials also say there is a strong need to assist farmers in the area and once again strengthen their capacity to produce food and earn a living.