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A local farmer runs through a swarm of desert locusts to chase them away, Kenya A local farmer runs through a swarm of desert locusts to chase them away, Kenya  (ANSA)

East African locust invasion reaches Kenya

Swarms of crop-eating locusts are crossing through East Africa, causing food insecurity and threatening livestock in the worst invasion in decades.

By Francesca Merlo

After having wreaked havoc across Ethiopia and Somalia, the swarms of locusts have reached Kenya, a country in which 10 million people already face food insecurity (Kenya Agricultural Research Institute).  Some areas in Ethiopia and Somalia – countries that had not faced an infestation of this scale for 25 years - saw the entirety of their crops destroyed. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) fears that by June, the swarms could grow 500 times, putting South Sudan and Uganda at risk.

According to experts, the locust invasion currently striking East Africa is caused by the extreme weather conditions that saw 2019 start with a drought and end in one of the wettest rainy seasons in decades.

Today we can better understand the nature of the locust. There can be up to 80 million locusts in one swarm, and one single locust can eat its own body mass in food per day. Around one tonne of locusts (500,000), a very small part of a swarm, can eat the same amount of food as 2,500 people in one day.

The swarm that has just travelled through Somalia and Ethiopia to reach Kenya is estimated, by the FAO, to contain around 200 billion locusts – covering an area almost the size of Moscow.

The locust has often been a Biblical symbol of God’s anger. In Hebrew, they were called 'the countless,' and in the Arab world, a swarm or a cloud of locusts was referred to as 'the darkeners of the sun.'

If the locusts are not brought under control by the start of the next planting and rainy season – typically around March – farmers could see their crops decimated.

27 January 2020, 16:01