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Billions of locusts swarm East Africa

Governments in East Africa and South Asia are trying to get a handle on the pestilent plague of swarming locusts that cloud the air and devour crops
Libby Emmons Brooklyn, NY

Billions of swarming locusts are devouring crops and threatening livelihoods across South Asia and East Africa. In what is being called the worst infestation in more than 25 years, the locusts are a scourge on populations.

Locusts consume their own body weight in food every day, and reproduce quickly. The current plague of pests is likely to increase exponentially. Those nations facing the largest locust flare-up are Yemen, Kenya, Ethiopia, Pakistan, India, and the Gulf States. Somalia has declared an emergency. The Democratic Republic of Congo, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and coastal Iran have been most recently affected. Other nations are under threat and bracing for impact.

Governments in East Africa and South Asia are trying to get a handle on the problem. The best option is to spray pesticides from planes. But there aren’t enough planes so far. Kenyan officials say they need 20 planes to get a hold on this problem. Spraying and tracking locusts from the ground is also necessary. Fenitrothion is the preferred pesticide for locust swarms, and Kenya has trained over 240 people to combat the problem.

The UN has asked for funding to get this horde of hungry insects under control. At first they wanted 76 million, but as the locusts have increased so has the financial need, and the number is up to $138 million. A mere $52 million has been received so far, including $10 million sent by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Called the Desert Locust, or Schistocerca gregaria, these locusts can cram 80 million adult pests into one single kilometer. In one day, they are able eat as much as can 35,000 people.

It was reported by the BBC that Chinese government has come up with a unique solution, the deployment of ducks. This effort will be tried in neighboring Pakistan, which has declared an emergency due to the swarms. One duck can eat over 200 locusts in a day, and since the ducks tend to stick together, they can flock the swarms.

Senior researcher with the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Lu Lizhi, said that the ducks can be deployed as “biological weapons” against the locusts, and are more effective and easier to wrangle than chickens.

However, there is a counter concern from other Chinese researchers that the ducks, who live near water, will be ill-suited to Pakistan’s desert climate.

The locust swarms are caused by the heavy rains that came with the cyclones of 2018-19. Since then, there have been at least three massive breeding cycles that were undetected by authorities in the Arabian Peninsula.

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