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African Locusts Threaten Food Security

Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia are being invaded by enormous swarms of desert locusts that are threatening to spread further into East Africa and jeopardize food security in the region.

Experts say it is the worst desert locust infestation in 70 years for Kenya, and in 25 years for Ethiopia and Somalia, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The locusts have also been breeding in other countries, including Eritrea, Sudan, and Djibouti.

"The current swarms represent an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa,” the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a 28 January update.

A swarm contains up to 150 million locusts per square kilometers (or per 0.39 square miles) and can consume an amount of crops in one day that could otherwise feed 35,000 people, according to FAO.

Ground and aerial locust control operations are continuing in Ethiopia and aerial operations started in Kenya this month. However, instability and a lack of national capacity have hampered the control operations in Somalia, according to the FAO.

In addition, experts say that the seasonal rains in March could bring a new wave of locust breeding. This could help push the locusts into northeast Uganda and southeast South Sudan, according to FAO. The agency also warns that, if left unchecked, the number of locusts could grow 500 times by June.

The East Africa region already has high levels of food insecurity, with more than 19 million people facing hunger because of drought and flooding.

So far in Kenya, locusts have mainly attacked pasture fields, putting livestock production at risk, according to experts. But if they move to the more southerly regions of the country, they could ravage crops like corn, coffee, and tea. Kenya is the world’s biggest producer of black tea.

For more on food security, see the Security Management article “Barnyard Biosecurity” from the March 2019 issue.