As East Africa reels from the worst locust infestation in decades, farmers dealing with crop devastation said the country could face food shortages. Pictures and video of the creatures casting huge shadows over fields and homes may look like they come from a disaster movie, but the swarms – sometimes up to a billion locusts strong – are having a real impact on the people.
"We were so shocked and tried to save our land from the attacks, but that didn't work as they were too many,” Assefa Alemu, a father of six and maize farmer from Wollo in the Ethiopian state of Amhara, told The National. “They have damaged our crops that were ready to be harvested. I now have nothing to feed my children.”
Alemu is not alone. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has termed the infestation the "worst situation in 25 years" in the Horn of Africa, exacerbating an already deteriorating food insecurity situation in the area.
“Currently, 25.5 million people in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda are already suffering from hunger and severe malnutrition," said Lydia Zigomo, the regional director of Oxfam in Horn, East and Central Africa. “These infestations of hundreds of millions of locusts need to be quickly contained before the next main cropping season of March to July.”
Desert locusts are a species of grasshopper that live largely solitary lives until a combination of conditions promote breeding and lead them to form massive swarms. Locusts devour their own weight in food per day – about two grams – and are able to cover 150 kilometres a day.
The current swarms have feasted on more than 235,000 hectares of land since the end of July. The Ethiopian government confirmed the pests have now spread to around 125 districts in the country, up from 56 in October.