A new wave of locust invasions is maturing and could be 20 times worse, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The locust invasion has, for the past few weeks, found itself buried under the COVID-19 news.
Towards the end of February, the locusts that had swept across the region since late December 2019 started to die off. This happening was good news for the farmers. It was even better news for Kenya’s Agricultural ministry, which had begun spraying efforts across all affected counties.
The good news was a significant relief for farmers, who were preparing for the planting season. The light at the end of the tunnel could not shine any brighter.
But the good news had a caveat. The locusts, in their decimation of crops across the region, had also laid eggs far and wide. In Kenya, Samburu, Isiolo, and Garissa were some of the worst affected areas, and they also bear the most significant numbers of adolescent hoppers.
Swarming nymphs to mature in coming weeks
Kenyans shared images of the dreadful sight of the young hoppers on social media as they began to swarm a few weeks back, and it appears that the hoppers are now starting to reach maturity. It won’t be long, then, before we see the skies darken with the swarms. And entomologists predict that it could be worse than the first wave.
According to FAO, the new swarm could be 20 times bigger than the last one.
“The situation remains extremely alarming in the Horn of Africa, specifically Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia where widespread breeding is in progress, and new swarms are starting to form,” the organization said in their Locust Watch situation update on the 31st of March.
FAO said that they expected concentration in Marsabit and Turkana. The new swarm would then be ready to reproduce next week and continue forward until May.
Other countries affected by the locust plague
In Ethiopia, the Hopper bands are increasing in numbers, especially in Oromiya and SNNPR regions. There are also prime swarms in South Sudan, southeast near Torit, and in Djibouti. In Somalia, breeding is in progress, especially in central areas. There are also mature swarms in Yemen and Iran in the Middle East, where the first wave emerged from.
According to locust forecaster at the FAO, Keith Cressman, the breeding of the insects unchecked could result in the insects remaining in the East African region until June the earliest.
The reason for this, according to Cressman, could be due to the fresh vegetation thriving now. The region experienced significant rains for much of the later parts of the last year. By then, the insects would have caused widespread damage that would risk the food security of up to 25 million people.
COVID-19 poses a challenge to spraying efforts
With COVID-19 sweeping across the world, many countries are imposing travel restrictions. The restrictions have so far not affected the supply of pesticides and other essentials to fight the locusts. However, if the situation continues for much longer, things could get worst for the efforts to combat the pests.
The current locust invasion is the worst in the region in 70 years. It appears as though that would continue for a while longer if the world goes on a complete lockdown due to COVID-19.