A farmer tries to drive a swarm of desert locusts away from his khat crops


© Reuters / Giulia Paravicini


Evocative of biblical plagues, the phenomenon that afflicts the Arabian peninsula and the Horn of Africa, and extends as far as South East Asia, is merely the result of ongoing climate change. Abundant cyclonic rains have permitted desert locusts to proliferate beyond all measure.
Like soldiers in an invasion force hundreds of millions strong, locusts have occupied hundreds of thousands of hectares of land in these parts of the globe. Ranged along multiple fronts, the “legions” vary from less than one to many hundreds of square kilometre in size, and are capable of flying for up to 150 kilometres a day with a favourable wind behind them. Their passage can lead to the total destruction of pastures and crops, as can be understood from the fact that the denser swarms may contain between 40 and 80 million locusts and have a daily food intake similar to that of 35,000 people.
What makes the containment of these pests particularly difficult is their ability to grow in number some twenty times in just three months. Despite the application of thousands of litres of chemical and biological pesticides, the situation remains alarming. In the most optimistic scenario, the Horn of Africa is likely to lose between 20 and 30% of its cereal crops during the course of the rainy season, dragging an extra half a million people into serious food insecurity. All this is destined to happen in a region where 20 million people already experience food insecurity and where the economy is still based mainly on crop and livestock farming communities.

Maria Melato