Parts of East Africa is experiencing an invasion from a swarm of desert locusts, the most dangerous of its species. Sources say that it is the worst outbreak in 25 years, and thus poses an unprecedented threat to food security in the region.
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, the locusts are destroying crops, pasture, and forest cover throughout the region, at an alarming rate, escalating the food situation in the region. Nearly 70,000 hectares of land in Kenya is already infested.
While unusual climate conditions are partly to blame, experts predict that further increase in locust swarms could linger till June, as favourable breeding conditions continue to persist in the form of unusual floods that have ravaged the region in recent weeks.
To prevent and control further outbreaks, the authorities look to stockpile pesticides and conduct aerial spraying, which would be employed effectively by analysing satellite images. These images will help determine the extent to which the locusts have spread, by assessing vegetation conditions that will help to predict the location of the locusts’ breeding grounds.
The UN says that about USD 70 million is needed to step up aerial spraying.
Satellite images have reported an “extremely dangerous increase” in locust swarm activity in Kenya in the past week. One swarm measured 60 x 40 kilometres wide in the country’s northeast area, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) said in a press release. However, these images would enable monitoring of very large areas at high resolutions, allowing detection of even small areas of vegetation.
An average, typical desert locust swarm ( which could contain up to 150 million locusts per square kilometre) can cover 100 to 150 kilometres in a day when aided by the wind, destroying as much food crops enough to feed a few thousand.
There have also been reported cases of outbreaks in Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea. IGAD already warns that parts of South Sudan and Uganda could be next.
Kipkoech Tale, a migratory pest control specialist with the Ministry of Agriculture, said that Kenya and Ethiopia both have four planes each flying, but more is needed. According to Tale, over 20 swarms have been sprayed, but they keep coming in their numbers.
Locals are worried that the locusts may lay eggs and start another generation, so farmers are traditionally fighting the plague, but there is only so much they can do. The people of East Africa need all the help they can get while they struggle to overcome the already shaky food situation in the region.