The Horn of Africa is facing the worst locust invasion in 70 years, threatening regional food security, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The swarms threaten to put 4.9 million people at risk of starvation, according to the International Rescue Committee. And despite governmental intervention to slow crop loss, FAO expects the damage to continue.
The locust can be found in more than 30 countries and swarms are familiar to farmers around the globe. Outbreaks typically occur in arid and semi-arid regions during periods of heavy rainfall. But the current outbreak is of particular concern.
Increased rainfall near the Horn of Africa, coupled with warmer weather, is creating ideal breeding conditions, contributing to the large size of this year’s swarms. Colin Christensen, Global Policy Director at One Acre Fund, an organization working to supply financing and training to smallholder farmers, tells Food Tank, “it was heavy rain in the Arabian peninsula that allowed for this swarm to initially develop.”
While options exist to contain small locust swarms, Christensen tells Food Tank, “There is little that an individual farmer can do on their own, given most farmers in the countries affected, at least in Africa, are very resource-constrained smallholders.”
Insecticide spraying is the most efficient mitigation strategy, he explains. Christensen tells Food Tank, “Effective spraying needs large scale deployment, like aerial or widely coordinated backpack spraying, which needs a government or big organizations to coordinate.”
But new technology can offer hope to farmers. Geographic Information Systems can monitor swarms and warn communities of their approach. By gathering information about locust lifespan, the speed of migration, mating patterns, and land destruction, researchers can pinpoint areas of highest concern.
Several African governments hope that this information will help create a more efficient and coordinated plan for spraying areas impacted by swarms. Christensen explains that tracking swarms not only enables swift action, it can also reduce unnecessary insecticide spraying, which can harm the earth.
The combination of research and technology, Christensen says will ultimately be key to reducing locust invasions and protecting food security.
Photo courtesy of Rick van Houten, Unsplash