Locusts infest East Africa

In rural areas of East Africa, in countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya, there are dark clouds of buzzing locusts. These dark clouds will spread and grow into a plague unless something is done.

The swarms of desert locusts are quite huge in size, with the largest swarm in Kenya being 37 miles long and 25 miles wide, as reported by the Smithsonian Magazine. These swarms are also affecting neighboring countries of Kenya such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, and Djibouti. This is not just some nightmare for entomophics, but could quickly translate to a severe case of famine. 

“The fact that I didn’t know anything about this, and I don’t hear any of my friends talking about this is shocking, to be honest,” Senior Hakim Idris said.

Each square kilometer of a swarm contains as much as 40 to 80 million locusts, and each swarm can cover 150 kilometers in one day. Since each locust can eat as much as their body weight in plant materials, a swarm can turn any farmlands on its path a barren land. A medium-sized swarm is estimated to be able to eat the same amount of food as the population of Kenya. 

Experts have credited this outbreak to an increase in numbers of cyclones in this region, giving East Africa more rainfall and fairer weather. Last fall, this region received the highest amount of rainfall in recent years (120% to 400% increase compared to normal), therefore fueling this growth of locust populations.

Locust belongs to the same family as grasshoppers, sharing similar appearances and traits. However, a key difference is that locusts have the ability to become social creatures once the population density goes up. When two locusts come into contact with each other, their brains produce serotonin, making the idea of traveling in swarms much more appealing, where they’re much safer. 

Keeping in mind the destructive power of the swarm, it also happens that the region they are wreaking havoc in has been in is home to 20 million people who have already been facing food insecurity. If left unchecked, it’s been estimated that the swarm could grow 400 times by June. This will then be categorized as a plague, which could last for a decade or more. So the clock is ticking and it is critical to deal with this problem before there is a dire consequence.

“I hope that President Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia will speak up more about this topic since she promised the nation to promote and raise awareness for the farmers in the region,” freshman Ruftana Beyene said. 

“Because more than half of Ethiopia is rural, the people tend to get their foods from village farms that the locusts are decimating, and I could only imagine that this will increase the food insecurity,” Junior Kalkedan Malefia said. 

Fortunately, Ethiopia and Kenya, along with the UN are taking charge of controlling this problem. The two countries made a plan to spray pesticides from airplanes, to maximize the effort to eradicate the swarms. The UN has asked countries and organizations to help raise $76 million in aid that would be used to further exterminate the locust swarms and help affected farmers in the Horn of Africa.

So far the UN has only been able to raise about $20 million in total. With $10 million released by Lowcock from the United States  U.N. Emergency Relief Fund, $3.8 million from HOA, and 1 million euros from the European Union.

In addition to the lack of aid, since Ethiopia and Kenya only possess five pesticide planes, the prospect of keeping the ever-growing swarms under control is unlikely. In addition to this studies are now showing that the pesticides themselves may be harmful to humans if sprayed in large amounts. 

“I just want to tell the farmers in the region that they will get through this no matter how bad it gets, and to place faith in God, because he has a plan for what is to come,” Junior Kalkidan Malefia said.