The United States’ Fight Against Locusts in East Africa

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TACOMA, Washington — A swarm of insects known as desert locusts is threatening agriculture in East Africa. Desert locusts are a particularly dangerous pest to crops, as they have a large travel distance, massive populations within one swarm and seemingly bottomless stomachs. As a result, the U.S. is helping in the fight against locusts in East Africa.

The Crisis

According to The World Bank, one locust swarm can feature “80 million locusts and eat the same amount of food per day as 35,000 people.” Clearly, locusts are a persistent and perilous threat to a region with a fragile agricultural structure already. With the costs of destroyed crops numbering as much as $8.5 billion in just East Africa and Yemen alone, this problem is significant. This is especially true in these regions where food security is already very high. More specifically, 26 million people in East Africa alone are already suffering from food insecurity. This number will likely increase due to the locust swarms ravaging crop fields. Consequently, locusts in East Africa is an issue that needs to be addressed promptly.

The United States’ Efforts

Fortunately, not all the news regarding this crisis is bleak. The United States is contributing to the effort to fight against the locust crisis via a new bill on the House floor. Bill H.R. 7276 titled East Africa Locust Eradication Act is sponsored by Representative Christopher H. Smith [R-NJ-4] and it provides much-needed support to the region to respond to these swarms of insects. If passed, this bill would create a team to work on finding ways to address the crisis. This group would investigate the nature of the threat and look at what efforts are working in order to solve the threat.

They would then implement their developed plan in an effort to stop the locusts. This plan would coincide with efforts already underway by other agencies in the government. For instance, USAID pledged $20 million in funding for humanitarian efforts in response to destroyed crops. In addition, USAID is conducting efforts on the ground to destroy locust swarms in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

The United States is doing more than simply killing locusts to address the problem, however. USAID also reported that over 1 million acres of farmland in affected regions have been treated against locusts since March 2020. These efforts provide more long-term solutions for protecting crops against future swarms, while simultaneously addressing the threat of swarms eating away at crops today.

Additional Support 

The United States government is not the only one helping with the locust crisis. African farmers received remote-controlled drones to help minimize the problem. The drones are controlled with smartphone apps and spray pesticides that kill the swarms of locusts. Penn State University developed these extremely useful smartphone apps in collaboration with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation. These apps empower farmers to address the crisis in their own ways.

The Future

It is extremely important to support agriculture in East Africa and the millions of people it feeds. U.S. efforts are helpful to farmers but more can be done. These pests are a threat to farmers worldwide, but they are especially dangerous in East Africa. In this region where a good harvest determines whether or not families will eat that month, they are downright deadly.

However, with more concentrated efforts like H.R. 7276, USAID’s groundwork and Penn State’s app development, a more stable and resilient agricultural system can be reconstructed in East Africa. Only then can we begin tackling the issue of food insecurity in the region. Once that begins, East Africa and all other regions affected by locust swarms can begin to thrive. Food insecurity is one of the biggest obstacles to the success and well-being of a community. Locusts in East Africa are definitely not helping the cause. By toppling this catalyst, food insecurity is one step closer to being eradicated in East Africa.

Domenic Scalora
Photo: Flickr

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