East African Desert Locust Plague

Druce Chandler, Writer


The desert locusts are a collection of species called short-horned grasshoppers. If there are many locusts, they can be devastating due to feeding on crops, pasture or fodder (dried hay). Usually, the desert locusts numbers are low and they aren’t a threat to agriculture, unless there are long periods of rainfall and high vegetation growth which will allow their numbers to skyrocket. When that does happen, a desert locust plague will start. Not only that but, the desert locust can travel one hundred fifty kilometers (ninety-five miles) a day and eat their own body weight. What this means is that one kilometer square of them can eat as much food as 35,000 people a day. 

In East Africa they are struggling with desert locusts, in which the United Nations and Agriculture Organization has announced that this is the worst invasion of the insects that has happened in twenty-five years. The desert locusts have currently destroyed about hundreds and thousands of acres of crops in East Africa. African countries such as Somalia had to declare a state of emergency, while countries like Ethiopia and Kenya are struggling to maintain the outbreak. On the other hand, more than 13 million people are experiencing severe acute food insecurity, and 20 million are on the verge of falling into crisis if their crops are damaged. The only way to stop this plague according to Bayeh Mulate, a pest control expert for the Food and Agriculture Organization in Addis Ababa said, “Our only option is to kill them all”.

Although trying to kill the Locusts may sound like the best option, there are problems with it. For instance, one of the things the Food and Agriculture Organization needs is 76 million dollars for pesticides but they only have received 20 million to use. Somalia, another country in East Africa, has ruled out aerial spraying with pesticides. Another problem Bill Hansson, a professor at the Max Planck Institute of Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany pointed out another problem with pesticides in which he said, “We should be careful with spraying because it may kill other insects which are very useful in the ecosystem, such as bees for pollination.” The pilots who spray the pesticides are at a disadvantage to, because they can only spray the locusts when they’re on the ground in the early morning, and if the pilots are unlucky, early-morning rain can prevent a mission. South African Pilot, Andrew Van Zyl pointed out, “ the swarms are thick enough that they can block the plane’s air intake”. Nevertheless, no matter what method is going to be used to stop the desert locust plague there will always be some sort of problem.

Desert locust picture taken by Patrick Meinhardt/ Bloomberg.com