Eastern Africa is going through a food crisis after a destructive plague of desert locusts, the most detrimental seen in the region for many decades.
A new wave of pests is already spreading across half a dozen African nations and poised to consume new crops that were planted to replace last season’s loss. Political instability in the region is adding to the anguish as violent insurgencies make it tough to disperse both locally grown and internationally donated food.
As Germany’s Deutsche Welle (D.W.) noted within a grim statement on Wednesday, food shortages threaten to set off much more assault as struggle lines are driven over livestock as well as grazing areas.
“There is nothing left to harvest. And there is nothing else that I know how to do. It’s just this farm. That’s where I get food, where I feed my family and friends, all people,” a Kenyan farmer advised D.W.
Most of the worst type of locust rampages are happening throughout areas like Somalia in which the ground is soaked with blood from the atrocities of the al-Shabaab terrorist gang, and South Sudan, where a delicate peace coalition could breakdown and rekindle a brutal civil war. Drought and political violence mixed to release famine in South Sudan even before the locusts appeared.
The locusts are a daunting adversary, with swarms able to touring over a hundred miles a day and devouring as many vegetation just as thousands of humans. Swarms bigger than entire cities have been noticed in Africa.
While the locust plague spreads beyond Africa, many are trying to turn the tables by eating the locusts. “Its taste is delicious. If you eat one locust, you will end up wanting to eat five. I walk every day after breakfast to find locusts for dinner. I have become addicted,” a Yemeni told the Jerusalem Post.
Politicians like U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres were swift to link the locust plague to “climate change,” although Deutsche Welle quoted researchers who much more cautiously discussed the astonishing number of locusts are a result of climate variations, along with swarms of the equal and larger size reported long before the beginning of the industrial era:
Climate experts have pointed to unusually heavy rains, aided by a powerful cyclone off Somalia in December, as a major factor in the outbreak. Niklas Hagelberg, the senior program coordinator at the U.N. Environment Programme, told D.W. that scientific data did not yet directly link the current events with climate change, even if he “personally” believes in the possibility. “What we can say is that the likelihood for increasing rainfall, increasing heat, increasing winds, has gone up due to climate change,” Hagelberg said. “So the likelihood for a swarm like this has increased.”
Spraying with pesticides is an emergency measure. In the future, other steps need to be taken to improve the response to similar outbreaks. “I think a key element from a climate change point of view is that we have early warning systems,” Hagelberg said. “Because the system is changing, we need to get early warnings on conditions for the formation of swarms as early as possible, which would make a timely and concerted international reaction possible.”
CNBC on Thursday noted the severe economic damage from the locust plague, such as the devastation of Ethiopia’s vital coffee and tea plants, that makeup 30 percent of the country’s exports. The scarcity of crops is putting on inflationary tension to economies that can ill afford it and making it harder for governments and corporations in eastern Africa to obtain credit. A number of experts believe that the region could shed one or two percent of its GDP growth this season.
Kenya’s economic fate can be determined by exactly where those fast-moving locust swarms opt to go next. As professionals explained to CNBC, the locusts have mostly afflicted northern Kenya, far from where its major export crops are cultivated, leading to food insecurity to the local population but relatively little financial damage. If the locusts move further south, the economic forecast will grow significantly more pessimistic, with almost a percentage point of GDP on the line.
U.N. experts worry that the locust population could increase by up to 500 times over the summertime and spread to 30 countries. One of those countries is China, which is already handling a deadly coronavirus epidemic. Locust swarms have already been sighted across the Chinese border.