Locust Swarms in China
The beginning of 2020 has definitely been challenging for East Africa and South Asia because sweeping locust swarms struck agricultural production and threatened food security in those areas. China has been suffering from a similar situation, as it loses over 10 million hectares of crops annually from locust swarms. Locust swarms in China have led to it having some expertise in dealing with them, though. In fact, in the nearest decade, China has efficiently lowered the frequency of locust swarms and freed vast acres of land from them. Updated technologies have aided the fight against the locust swarms. Here are some of the hallmarks that make China stand out in the fight against locust swarms.

China’s National Campaign and Societal Engagement

One can trace the modern engagement of prevention and control of the locust swarms in China to land reform in 1950. Before China enacted its government-led afforestation, the local government effectively mobilized farmers to fight the locust swarms with the use of man-powered tools, minimal technology and scientific methods. However, this process clearly expressed that China would not succeed in its fight against locust swarms without massive societal involvement.

Societal engagement seems subtle compared with actual scientific studies about reducing locust swarms. Continuous alerts to the public regarding the seriousness of the locust invasion is the primary form of engagement. The database of the People’s Daily, a Chinese official newspaper, gives at least 270 news headlines mentioning damage or potential risk of the locust swarms in China each year from 1946 to 2019. Public awareness has yet to ease in regards to outbreaks of the locust swarms in China.

Besides the publicity, environmental education opens another gate for nationwide and generationwide involvement. At the state level, the progress of environmental education directly promotes the cultivation of a new generation of professionals who will work in the prevention and control of the locust swarms in the country. At the college level, over 200 universities and 44,000 students prepared to provide support with expertise contributions in 2012.

This nationwide campaign has evolved in the new era. For example, Ant Forest, launched by Ant Financial Service Group, has planted 122 million trees through societal environmental involvement. Ant Forest achieved the massive tree plantation through a 200 million user base and ease of access from users’ smartphones. People who would not touch environmental issues before can involve themselves more easily.

Inter-Agencies Arrangement

In addition to societal involvement, China has also demonstrated a rigid systematic intervention, which should ensure the enforcement and delivery of policies in any local area. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (MoA) is not only in charge of the prevention and control of the locust swarms in China but also has to coordinate with agencies such as the General Administration of Customs. One short answer to such a setup of complex agencies is the need to implement continuously improved strategies against the locust swarms. 

Some researchers have suggested that gaining knowledge about locusts in addition to the implementation of more efficient control techniques would decrease the destruction of locust swarms in China. Another research group found that human activities, such as deforestation and desertification, highly synchronize with the outbreak of the locust swarms in China. Overexploitation of the arable lands and grasslands in Northwest China used to cause the degradation of the land and therefore make them habitable for locusts. Due to such a phenomenon, working with the National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA) is one of MoA’s immediate priorities.

One of the successful examples is the Three-North Shelter Forest Program. Despite the program not specifically aiming to reduce locust swarm damage, the program contributed to the total coverage of forest from less than 17 percent to nearly 23 percent. This increase tightened the space for the reproduction of the locust swarms and blocked the invading path. Other projects in flood control or grazing management also support the prevention of the locust swarms in China.


In short, massive social involvement makes the prevention and control of locust swarms a different game in China. Successful publicity mobilized a vast number of the people and the form of the national campaign injected enough attention to resolving the issue with maximized resources. The younger generation has a better understanding of the issue via intensive environmental education. Also, the environmental concept has deeply penetrated ordinary people’s perception because of the broad coverage of easy access, such as smartphones and online services. 

The benefit of these methods to decrease locust swarms in China is clear. On one hand, individuals have taken on the task of protecting and restoring the environment. On the other hand, this allows China to push new policies in environmental protection more easily, especially when the policy is in conflict with the fundamental way of living for people like farmers and nomads. 

A strong institutional arrangement also backs up the enforcement of the policy. It provides China with alternative tools in disaster management and has ultimately reduced the vulnerability of a sole emergency management strategy. By consolidating the collaboration of multiple systems, China is capable of stepping far beyond the boundary of passive defense to engage issues in advance. Therefore, for the African and other locust suffering countries, the key to the reduction of locust swarms may be in a different direction than relying on technology alone.

– Dingnan Zhang
Photo: Flickr