Locusts destroy crops in East Africa, leaving farmers helpless

  • Swarms of locusts are decimating crops in East Africa, where millions of people already struggle to get healthy food.
  • The swarm can eat enough food in one day to feed 34 million people.
  • Farmers in Kenya, Ethiopia and other countries have resorted to setting fires and making noise to try to ward off the locusts.
  • The United Nations is asking for $76 million in aid to the region to combat the plague.
  • Watch more episodes of Business Insider Today on Facebook.

Below is a transcript from an episode of Business Insider Today. Watch the full episode here.

Locusts have a great appetite.

One of these insects can eat its own weight in food in one day.

They are destroying crops in East Africa, where millions of people are already considered food insecure.

With an emergency in Somalia and Kenya experiencing its worst invasion in 70 years, the region is struggling to contain the outbreak.

The shepherds and farmers felt this the most. Somali shepherd Abdullah Hassan relies on his flock to feed his nine children.

Abdullah Hassan, shepherd: “Locusts have destroyed all of our grazing lands, and I am very worried that Mashi will die of starvation because these locusts are everywhere and take over the whole area.”

The swarm can eat enough food to feed 34 million people in just one day.

Within a year, locusts had destroyed more than 170,000 acres of land in Somalia and Ethiopia – where people depend on crops for food and income.

The swarms have been piling up since 2018, when two cyclones hit the Arabian Peninsula in the same year.

Wet conditions gave the locusts a fertile breeding ground, and the population increased more than 400-fold. It only got worse after another cyclone hit the area at the end of 2019.


A swarm of locusts like the one afflicting East Africa could eat enough food a day to feed 34 million people.


Now, swarms have invaded 15 counties in Kenya and have reached Uganda, Tanzania and Sudan.

Communities do what they can to protect their food source. Many of them bury the locusts, start fires, and make noise to scare them away.

But these are not sustainable solutions.

Hassan: “But we cannot fight them because their numbers are huge and uncontrollable.”

An expert at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations warns that some of these practices actually perpetuate the problem.

Keith Cressman, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: “It’s just passing the problem on to their neighbors and then the locusts scatter, so it’s not a good target to control anymore.”


Local farmers resorted to setting fires and making noise to ward off swarms of locusts.


The only way to adequately control the swarms, Keith says, is to use insecticides.

But resources are scarce – the Associated Press reports that Kenya has just five planes to combat swarms the size of 250 football fields.

The United Nations is asking for $76 million in aid. So far it has only reached $20 million, and half of it has come from the emergency fund.

And time is running out. The planting season begins around April, and the United Nations fears the emergence of a new generation of locusts around the same time.


Many farms fear that locusts will wipe out the harvest of several months.


Esther Kithuka, farmer: “We depend so much on this season, we fear the locusts will destroy our crop and we will end up starving all year long, waiting for October, when we have the next crop season.”

If the rain stops and control operations increase, the growing threat to these swarms may slow. But this is not possible.

At the very least, officials are urging the world to step in and help.

Dominique Bourgogne, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: “Now is the time for the international community to understand that it is an issue that must be dealt with now. Otherwise… there will be high levels of acute food insecurity. There will be another million people who will need food assistance and it will take us years to bring the situation under control.”

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