SEATTLE, Washington — The resurgence of Desert Locust populations in East Africa has led to what experts consider to be the most severe locust plague in 70 years. This has placed millions at risk during a time when much of the world finds itself preoccupied with the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, this has led many U.S. leaders to advocate for working closely with local governments to tackle the crisis before it reaches a boiling point, culminating in H.R. 7276: “The East African Locust Eradication Act.”
Desert Locust Plagues in East Africa
Experts on the species attribute the unprecedented spike in Desert Locust migrations to unusually high levels of rainfall during the winter and spring seasons, attracting massive swarms capable of stretching thousands of square miles. This new wave of locust migrations is particularly threatening for East Africa, where food insecurity is a pervasive problem and substantial crop failure has the potential to leave over 42 million people vulnerable to starvation.
In response to this crisis, the Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) urged in January that immediate action be taken to combat the threat that Desert Locusts pose to East Africa.
FAO’s efforts have resulted in the protection of much of the region’s crops, insulating hundreds of thousands of rural families from food insecurity in the process. Indeed, FAO estimates that as of May, nearly 720,000 metric tons of cereal grains have been preserved from devastation by state and international forces with biopesticides and other measures. However, despite this concerted effort to control the spread of the swarms, many fear a second surge as adolescent nymphs develop into a new wave of fully grown adults.
H.R. 7276: The East Africa Locust Eradication Act
In June 2020, U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) introduced H.R. 7276 as a direct response to the looming threat in East Africa. Titled “The East African Locust Eradication Act”, the bill actively seeks to fight the food insecurity caused by the insect’s migrations in affected countries, as well as work with local governments to develop regional resilience against locust plagues in the future.
The bill aims to accomplish this by mandating the establishment of an interagency working committee, comprised of officers of the U.S. Ambassador to the FAO, the U.S. National Security Council, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
This committee will be tasked with assessing the scope of the threat as well as the efficacy of the preventative measures currently underway, the ultimate objective being to create a comprehensive strategy for U.S. assistance. The committee must then deliver said strategy to the president within the first 90 days of the bill’s passage, after which the president will have 30 days to designate a committee member to guide its implementation. Following this, the committee will then have a further 90 days to deliver a report of the strategy’s success.
Submitted to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in mid-June, the East Africa Locust Eradication Act has already garnered extensive bipartisan support. Chair of the House Subcommittee on Africa Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) joined Smith as lead-cosponsor on the bill shortly after its introduction, followed swiftly by another six representatives. As advocates like Smith continue to gather support, the urgent need for a solution to Desert Locust plagues in East Africa also gains wider public awareness.
– Matthew Otey