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Desert Locust Outbreak

Desert Locust Outbreak

Swarms continue to threaten East Africa and South Asia

Desert Locust Outbreak

Swarms continue to threaten East Africa and South Asia

Desert Locust Outbreak

A man walks through a locust swarm in KenyaIn the Greater Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and parts of southwest Asia, the Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) has been ravaging crops and native vegetation since late 2019. For some countries, this is the worst upsurge seen in seventy years, affecting 2.5 million people in 2020 and at least another 1 million in early 2021 (FAO 2021).

By April 2021, over 2 million ha of land has been treated to control the Desert Locust and the FAO calculates interventions saved USD 1.57 billion in crop and milk production (FAO 2021).

In April 2021, delayed rains and intensive control efforts brought a significant decline in locust numbers in Ethiopia and Somalia, signaling hope for a recession. However, rain arrived in May, sparking favorable conditions for locusts to mature and start breeding again. Keep up to date with Desert Locust forecast by following USAID’s Emergency Transboundary Outbreak Pest (ETOP) Situation Bulletin here and FAO Locust Watch here.

What environmental conditions caused the current Desert Locust outbreak?
As their name suggests, Desert Locusts are adapted to arid regions. They can persist through long periods of dry weather but capitalize on desert rains that support population booms. Starting in 2018, rare cyclones brought unexpected heavy rainfall to key locust breeding areas. Increased moisture across the Horn of Africa sprouted green vegetation that fueled explosive locust populations as explained in this recent National Geographic article.

What are the social and political factors that affect the management of Desert Locust swarms?
During recession years, Desert Locusts can be found at low densities throughout an enormous 16 million km2 area covering 30 countries, but during plague years the potentially affected area can expand to a 29 million km2 area spanning 60 countries! Much of this vast area is either uninhabited or filled with isolated communities, making the monitoring and early warning systems which are critical for preemptive locust control extremely challenging.

What are challenges to maintaining and expanding Desert Locust management capacity?
Many of the currently affected countries are seeing locust outbreaks for the first time in decades. For instance, Kenya hasn’t experienced an outbreak of this magnitude in 70 years. These unpredictable boom-and-bust cycles of Desert Locust outbreaks, which can play-out over periods of decades, make preserving institutional knowledge and maintaining the capacity to respond difficult, if not impossible, for an individual nation or region. Additionally, any societal or political disruption further jeopardizes the capacity to monitor and respond to locust threats. Civil war in Yemen for example, played a role in undermining locust control during critical early stages of this outbreak, and the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt ongoing locust control efforts in East Africa.

For more further information please see the following recent article by Dr. Michel Lecoq posted on our website: Preventative management of the Desert Locust and the ongoing invasion


FAO. 2021. Desert locust upsurge – Progress report on the response in the Greater Horn of Africa and Yemen (January-Aril 2021). Rome.

Ongoing response efforts, what is being done?

Samburu County, near Wamba The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is overseeing coordination and augmenting the management capacity of 18 nations in Africa and the Near East through the EMPRES system, and through three regional locust commissions composed of member states. The national representatives composing the commissions are typically each country’s respective National Plant Protection Organization (NPPO) leader. Stakeholders are coordinating at each level to respond to the locust threat through continued monitoring and ground and aerial treatments of targeted pesticide applications. For updated response overview statistics check out the FAO snapshot.

Research groups are also working tirelessly around the world to make advancements in our understanding of locusts, from genomics to ecology, in an effort to more sustainably manage the natural phenomenon of locust swarming (see Research Labs section of our Resources Page). We are creating an updated resource page highlighting the latest advancements of these research teams. If you are working on the Desert Locust and would like to be included, or have any updates or announcements please email us

How can I help?

The FAO has put out large national and institutional donations through their emergency response unit.

The CERF program of the UN handles smaller donations which are given directly to the FAO for the Desert Locust crisis:

Coverage of the Desert Locust Outbreak

Regional organizations involved in Desert Locust management


  • Recordings of the 1st Virtual Practitioners Conference on Desert Locust Management 2020, hosted by TheWaterChannel available here.
  • Fighting Desert Locust Together: Innovations and Solutions to Combat an Agrarian & Food Crisis hosted by the Feed the Future Developing Local Extension Capacity (DLEC), you can read a summary here, by Digital Green, and watch the full webinar on YouTube here