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Swarms of locusts devastate vegetation in eastern Africa

Locust swarm (photo: Niv Singer)Locust swarm (photo: Niv Singer)Billions of desert locusts are swarming across Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in East Africa. They have reached Tanzania and Uganda, and are approaching South Sudan. Some of the swarms are huge: one in northeastern Kenya measured 60 kilometres long by 40 kilometres wide (37 by 25 miles). They can be dense enough to block out the sun. Desert locusts eat all the vegetation, including crops, they come across, each insect consuming an amount equal to its own body weight each day. A square kilometre (an area the size of almost 250 football pitches) of swarming insects can include 40 to 80 million locusts capable of eating as much food as 35,000 people. There have been seven major desert locust plagues since the 1900s, the last of which was in 2003–05. The current swarms are the worst to hit Ethiopia and Somalia in 25 years, and Kenya in 70 years.

Locust swarm, Isiolo county, Kenya, Feb 2020Video credit: Kulayo Happi Kulayo

Spraying locusts in Tanzania (ChriKo)Spraying locusts in Tanzania (ChriKo)


In addition to destroying crops in a region where tens of millions of people face food shortages due to long droughts, swarms of locusts also eat the vegetation that cattle graze on in just a few hours. There are already concerns for South Sudan, where many people face hunger as the country emerges from a long civil war. 

To kill the insects, pesticides can be sprayed from planes but there are more of them than the authorities can handle. Many of the locusts are breeding in the Puntland region of Somalia where al-Shabab, the Islamist terrorist group, is in control, making it impossible to carry out aerial spraying.

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