Locust Swarms Are Destroying Crops and Vegetation in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya

As locusts by the billions descend on parts of Kenya in the worst outbreak in 70 years, small planes are flying low over affected areas to spray pesticides in what experts call the only effective control. (Ben Curtis/AP)

Aid agencies report swarms of locusts have been descending on farms in northern Kenya, destroying crops and even leaving pastures bare of vegetation.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in a regional update on the pests says swarms have been detected this week in seven counties in Kenya compared to just four a week ago.

Across the Horn of Africa locust invasions have reached dangerous levels in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya, according to the FAO.

“For Kenya this is a second wave,” Hamisi Williams FAO deputy country representative for Kenya told Spice FM in Nairobi. “The first wave came in 2020 and we dealt with it.” Kenya attacked the locusts with insecticides both from individual farmers on the ground and aerial spraying from planes. But other countries in the region — ones with fewer resources and wracked by conflict including Somalia, Yemen and Ethiopia — didn’t go after the bugs as aggressively.

“A lot of (locust) breeding happened in Ethiopia for the entire 2020. The same situation happened in Somalia,” Williams said. “We are now suffering the fate of our neighbors who just didn’t do a good job for one reason or the other,” in controlling the desert-dwelling grasshoppers.

But he concedes that part of the reason the locusts reproduced so rapidly was because of unusual rainfall patterns.

“We saw very intense rainfall in areas of northeastern (Kenya), where normally it’s very dry,” Williams said. “Normally there would be nothing there for locusts to feed on. They wouldn’t be able to survive there for long.” But that wasn’t the case last year. “And you got so much fodder which the locusts were able to feed on, and they were able to breed.”

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SOURCE: NPR, Jason Beaubien