Desert Locust Outbreak
In 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
Ongoing response efforts, what is being done?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can I help?
The CERF program of the UN handles smaller donations which are given directly to the FAO for the Desert Locust crisis: https://cerf.un.org/donate
Coverage of the Desert Locust Outbreak
- Signs of hope in East Africa, as control campaign tames locust upsurge (April 12, 2021)
- As Locusts Swarmed East Africa, This Tech Helped Squash Them (April 8, 2021)
- Kenya’s Locust Outbreak May Be Nearing End as Spring Rains Are Delayed (April 8, 2021)
- A locust plague hit East Africa. The pesticide solution may have dire consequences (March 24, 2021)
- This Kenyan Startup Is Turning Locust Swarms into Animal Feed (March 15, 2021)
- How Kenya’s farmers are trying to outsmart locusts and climate change (March 6, 2021)
- Kenya: A sustainable solution to locust swarms? (Feb 25, 2021)
- Biblical plague or manageable threat? Beating back swarms with Kenya’s locust hunters (Feb 21, 2021)
- In Kenya, lessons from 2020 prepare responders for a locust re-invasion (February 9, 2021)
- Locust swarms pose new threat to Middle East and Africa’s food security (February 5, 2021)
- Kenya Beats Back Fresh Wave of Desert Locust Invasions (January 22, 2021)
- Locust Swarms Threaten Parts Of East Africa (January 19, 2021)
- First floods, then desert locusts (January 15, 2021)
- UN releases Sh164m for fight on locust upsurge (January 08, 2021)
- Artificial Intelligence Helping African Farmers in the Fight Against Locust (January 06, 2021)
- Desert Locust ‘re-invasion’ threatens millions across Horn of Africa (December 16, 2020)
- BBC, East Africa fears second wave – of locust swarms (December 16, 2020)
- Adult Desert Locust Swarms, Schistocerca gregaria, Preferentially Roost in the Tallest Plants at Any Given Site in the Sahara Desert (December 7, 2020)
- Targeting Breeding Sites May Avoid Further Locust Infestations in Africa (November 22, 2020)
- Desert locust outbreak highlights gaps in risk governance (November 18, 2020)
- The Guardian, How war threatens Ethiopia’s struggle against worst locust swarm in 25 years (November 16, 2020)
- Bloomberg, New Generation of Desert Locusts Breeding in Horn of Africa (October 28, 2020)
- International Rescue Committee, Twelve fold increase in Ethiopia COVID-19 cases, severe weather and locusts creating massive need in Ethiopia, warns IRC (October 7, 2020)
- Hindustan Times, Intensive control operations reduced locust threat in India, Pakistan, says FAO (September, 4, 2020).
- The Naked Scientists, Stopping swarming locusts, (August 18, 2020).
- Relief Web, Teaming up to defend against locusts, (August 12, 2020).
- BBC, The Biblical locust plagues of 2020, (August 6, 2020).
- U.S. Embassy in Uganda, New USAID Award to Combat Desert Locusts, (July 20, 2020).
- Business Insider, Kenya uses app in battle against desert locusts, (July 20, 2020).
- BBC, Locusts: A close-up look at the swarms devouring the world’s crops, (July 9, 2020).
- DownToEarth, Locust swarms: How can they be warded off?, (July 8, 2020).
- U.S. News, Crunch, Crunch: Africa’s Locust Outbreak Is Far From Over, (July 5, 2020).
- NPR, Locusts Are A Plague Of Biblical Scope In 2020. Why? And … What Are They Exactly?, (June 14, 2020).
- Forbes, What’s up with those locust swarms, (June 12, 2020).
- Mongabay, Climate change favours locust swarms, India increasingly at risk, (June 2, 2020).
- The Guardian, ‘Make noise and don’t panic’: India tries to ward off locust invasion, (May 28, 2020).
- BBC, India combats locust attack amid Covid-19 pandemic, (May 26, 2020).
- The Guardian, ‘Many will starve’: locusts devour crops and livelihoods in Pakistan, (May 25, 2020).
- The Guardian, Kenya’s pastoralists face hunger and conflict as locust plagues continue, (May 15, 2020).
- Scientific American—E&E News, To track massive Locust swarms officials use tool that forecasts smoke plumes, (May 15, 2020).
- VOA, Somalia starts aerial spraying to stop Desert Locust Invasion (May 14, 2020).
- Wall Street Journal, Africa braces for a record wave of locusts (April 29, 2020).
- BBC, How do you fight a locust invasion amid coronavirus (April 25, 2020).
- Undark, To Fight Locusts-Historic Rivals India and Pakistan Team Up (April 20, 2020).
- The Guardian, Second wave of locusts in east Africa said to be 20 times worse, (April 13, 2020).
- BBC, Hundreds of billions of locusts swarm in East Africa, (March 10, 2020).
- National Geographic, A plague of locusts has descended on East Africa… (Feb. 14, 2020).
- Newsweek, Locust swarms as big as cities are causing a crisis in Africa…, (Feb. 21, 2020).
- The New York Times, Like an Umbrella Had Covered the Sky…, (Feb. 21, 2020).
- Bloomberg, Locust Swarms Ravaging East Africa Are the Size of Cities, (Feb. 17, 2020).
- Wired, The Terrifying Science Behind the Locust Plagues of Africa, (Feb. 5, 2020).
- Mashable, Why today’s biblical locust swarms can’t be stopped (Jan. 28, 2020).
Regional organizations involved in Desert Locust management
- The latest Desert Locust situation, updates, bulletins, forecasts, maps and photos FAO Desert Locust Watch
- The latest status of Desert Locust control operations FAO dashboard
- Survey and control data from field teams available for downloading at FAO Locust Hub
- FAO Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in the Central Region (CRC)
- FAO Commission for Desert Locust Control in the Western Region (CLCPRO)
- The Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA)
- FAO Commission for Controlling the Desert Locust in South-West Asia (SWAC)
- 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