The Horn of Africa is currently battling the worst desert locust invasion it has seen in 70 years, threatening an already food-insecure region, but the pests aren't stopping there. Sudan’s agriculture minister said the locusts have now crossed the border into South Sudan.
“The pest has been arriving in alarming numbers in Kenya since December, with new swarms reported to be on the way from Ethiopia and Somalia. At present, there are 17 counties with confirmed desert locust infestations,” the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported.
The situation is expected to worsen because widespread breeding is now in progress.
FAO said tens of thousands of hectares of croplands and pasture have already been damaged in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, with potentially severe consequences in a region where 11.9 million people are already food insecure.
“The potential for destruction is enormous. A locust swarm of 1 sq. km can eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people,” FAO explained. Locusts in Kenya have already infested nearly 173,000 acres (70,000 hectares) of land.
Tobias Takavarasha, FAO representative ad interim to Kenya, said the locust upsurge represents a direct threat to FAO’s mandate to eradicate food insecurity and malnutrition.
“Our current concern is that the first-generation swarms that came in from Ethiopia and Somalia are now breeding, and by the time the eggs hatch, it will be planting season, meaning early germination of crops,” Takavarasha said. “The hopper bands are the most voracious feeders in the life cycle of desert locusts, which is why we are urgently increasing ground control.”
FAO has started training 300 National Youth Service (NYS) trainees as part of its action plan to boost the Kenya’s surveillance and control. An additional 300 will also be trained in the near future. Meanwhile, Uganda has even deployed military personnel to try to try to control the swarms.
The normal breeding season for desert locusts is from January to March.
“Right now, if we do not increase ground surveillance and get the locusts when they are still hopper bands, if we allow them to mature and breed, every new generation will increase 20 times in number. This is why we think NYS trainees would be excellent for this operation,” Kello Harsame, Kenya’s secretary for administration, said.
As for Sudan, Meshack Malo, FAO representative for South Sudan, told Africanews that the locusts that have entered the region are mature and looking for breeding grounds.
“These are deep yellow, which means that they will be here mostly looking at areas in which they will lay eggs,” he said.
FAO recently launched a $76 million appeal to control the locusts' spread. So far, it has received only around $20 million, roughly half of which came from a U.N. emergency fund.