Five things you should know about an ancient pest: the desert locust

The desert locust outbreak is not a new phenomenon. Locusts are among the world’s oldest migratory pests and have been devastating crops around the world for centuries. When huge swarms invade many countries and spread across several regions or continents, it becomes an epidemic. The desert locust plague, the most devastating locust species of all, could easily affect 20 percent of the land, potentially harming the livelihoods of a tenth of the world’s population and seriously affecting food security..

So, what are the most important things to know about desert locusts?

a desert locusts It is a type of grasshopper – but it is much more destructive than the common species of grasshopper. Locusts are part of a large group of insects commonly called locusts. However, locusts differ from locusts in that they have the ability to change their behavior and habits and can migrate long distances. They can form swarms, can be dense and highly mobile and can then fly up to 150 kilometers per day, in case of favorable winds. These swarms can devour large quantities of plants and crops.

Locust swarms can range from less than one square kilometer to more than 1,000 square kilometres. Each square kilometer of a swarm can have between 40 million and sometimes up to 80 million adult locusts. Each locust is able to eat its weight in plants every day. Given this, it is easy to see the devastating impact that a locust infestation can have on food security in the affected areas. If epidemics develop, it could take several years and hundreds of millions of dollars to get them under control.

Desert locusts can be found in 30 countries. During periods of sudden boom, it can reach up to 60 countries.

During periods of calm, known as recessions, desert locusts It is usually restricted to semi-arid and arid deserts. This includes parts of Africa, the Near East, and Southwest Asia that receive less than 200 mm of rain annually. It covers an area of ​​about 16 million square kilometers, consisting of about 30 countries. But during epidemics, desert locusts It may span a vast area of ​​about 29 million square kilometres, extending over or into parts of 60 countries.

A small swarm with an area of ​​one square kilometer eats the same amount of food as 35,000 people in one day.

Adult desert locusts She can consume her weight from fresh foods daily. And to highlight this: only one small swarm (1 km2) has the ability to eat the same amount of crops in one day as 35,000 people. If locust numbers are not contained, the impact on crops and vegetation will increase hunger in areas already struggling with high levels of disease. Food insecurity. Desert locust infestation can lead to a significant reduction in agricultural and food production, can deplete food stocks and create significant risks to the food security of the population.

Desert locust swarms are difficult to deal with for many reasons.

There are many reasons why it is difficult to combat desert locusts successfully. Locust swarms can cover very large areas that can sometimes be very remote and difficult to reach. Sometimes these areas are also in conflict zones, which makes the processes of control difficult and unsafe. The swarm can extend to many countries, requiring complex cross-border coordination. Some of the vulnerable areas are in developing countries where resources for locust monitoring may be limited or basic infrastructure may not be available. Because there are long periods when locust swarms are not present, it can also be difficult to maintain enough trained personnel and resources to respond.

Desert locusts can be controlled.

Preparing for a swarm is one of the main ways to counter it. Through the Global Desert Locust Information Service (DLIS), FAO monitors the global locust situation 24 hours a day and provides forecasts and early warnings regarding the timing, size and location of movements and reproduction. To collect and transmit up-to-date data, DLIS has developed the eLocust3, a hand-held tablet and customized application available in English, French and Arabic used by government locust information officials across at-risk areas to record and transmit data. This allows DLIS to analyze desert locusts trends and movements and give early warnings to countries at risk, which can then launch control operations.

When a swarm becomes a significant threat, FAO then activates the Transboundary Plant Pest Emergency Center, which provides countries with technical advice, raises funds and mobilizes expert support and supplies for affected countries, and helps coordinate control campaigns. Locusts represent a major threat to people’s food security and ability to provide for themselves. However, by working alongside countries and national capacities, the organization’s long-standing knowledge and experience can help communities prepare and fight back, ensuring that we can still achieve two core SDGs, namely poverty eradication (Goal 1) and the on hunger (Goal 2).

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