Locust swarms devour fields of crops in a single day that would feed 35,000 people — and COVID-19 threatens to make the pest problem even worse

Locust swarms devour fields of crops in a single day that would feed 35,000 people — and COVID-19 threatens to make the pest problem even worse
An Ethiopian girl attempts to fend off desert locusts as they fly in a farm on the outskirt of Jijiga in Somali region, Ethiopia January 12, 2020Giulia Paravicini/REUTERS
  • Regions of Africa, Asia, and the Arabian Peninsula harassed by locust swarms could experience increased food insecurity as COVID-19 complicates the response to pest control in already poverty-stricken areas.
  • Locusts can decimate entire farms of crops in a day, eating the same amount as 35,000 people.
  • COVID-19 is disrupting supply chains, making it harder for nations to fend off locusts as distribution of equipment, pesticides, and man-power lags.

Desert locust swarms raging in the Greater horn of Africa, the Arabian peninsula, and southwest Asia are creating a potential food crisis for local populations, according to a newly released report by the World Resources Institute.

The droves of insects have been sweeping across these regions since October. A swarm covering a square kilometer is capable of eating the same amount as a group of 35,000 people in a single day. And the population of locusts has the potential to grow 20 times its current size, according to WRI researcher Tina Huang.

While the swarms of locusts threaten to decimate crops, the coronavirus pandemic could intensify the damage as disruption to supply chains across the globe hinder the disbursement of equipment, pesticides, protective gear, as well as the movement of personnel to combat the pests, Huang writes.


"The biggest challenge we are facing at the moment is the supply of pesticides, and we have delays because global air freight has been reduced significantly," Cyril Ferrand, a team leader for the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, said in a press release.

"Our absolute priority is to prevent a breakdown in pesticide stocks in each country. That would be dramatic for rural populations whose livelihoods and food security depend on the success of our control campaign," Ferrand said.

Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Yemen are particularly vulnerable to the dangerous impacts of locust swarms because of economic crisis, climate change, and armed conflict, which is now being compounded by COVID-19, according to the WRI report.


Other countries, such as Saudi Arabia, are also likely to feel the effects of the locust invasion but are less vulnerable because of preparedness to combat the swarms as well as having a higher level of food security to begin, Huang writes in her report.

To see real-time data about food insecurity and other global crises visit Resource Watch's interactive map.

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