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Worst Locust Swarm in 25 Years Threatens Food Supply in South Asia, East Africa

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Mar 16, 2020

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Image Credit: Caribbean National Weekly

As if CoVID-19 wasn’t enough to deal with (or enough of the sign of the End Times), across East Africa, South Asia, and the Middle East, the largest traveling swarms of locusts seen in a quarter-century are wreaking havoc on crops, threatening the food supply of 20 million people.

In some places, the swarms cover areas the size of Manhattan. Locusts can each eat their body weight in crops every day. This may not sound like much, given the insect’s small size. But billions put together can devastate a region. In the swarm the size of Manhattan, currently situated in Kenya, 4 to 8 billion locusts consume daily the equivalent of what 3.5 million people would eat in a single day, Nature reports.

“In one day they consume wheat, barley, sorghum, or maize crops that feed 35,000 people. Masses the size of cities can consume 1.8 million metric tons of vegetation every day – enough to feed 81 million people,” writes Robert Rotberg, founding director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Intrastate Conflict.

Experts are also predicting the situation will worsen; at the insect’s current breeding rate, the swarms of billions may grow 400 times their size by June, reports the BBC.


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East Africa has been the hardest hit so far, with Kenya currently undergoing its worst locust attacks in 70 years. But scientists are already tracking the swarms’ spread to Gulf states, Iran, Pakistan, and India; locusts can travel up to 150 km a day, experts say.

Pesticide spraying on the ground and by air has already begun in East Africa, but efforts still fall woefully short of the mark. A shortage of biopesticides, the best weapon against locust, have governments resorting to less effective chemical sprays. The United Nations has called for US$138 million to tackle the crisis, but so far only US$52 million has come up to scratch.

Which has agriculture authorities considering some rather unorthodox methods of pest control: importing ducks.

China has offered Pakistan ducks, which on a good day can eat 210 locusts each; by contrast, chickens can only eat around 70, the BBC reports.

The swarms have reached their current size through a combination of climate factors: cyclones in 2018, followed by warm weather and unexpectedly heavy rains through the end of 2019. Regional conflict and lack of global funding also undermine control efforts.

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Written By Liesl Goecker

Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle’s managing editor and has been living and writing in Mumbai since 2010. She is passionate about women’s rights, everyone’s health, and caffeine.

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