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Outbreak of Locusts in Somalia Predicted to be Worse in 2021In the past several decades, Somalia has faced a variety of challenges, including foreign imperialism, religious extremism and a struggling infrastructure system. Literacy and education have long been areas of concern, as has access to food, water and healthcare. In 1991, President Muhammed Siad Barre was overthrown, and the country descended into civil war with various political and military factions vying for control of the country. Peacekeeping groups from the U.S. and the United Nations attempted to restore a central government and restrain violence, but they were met with opposition and eventually left, unsuccessful, in 1993.

A Destabilized Country and Poverty

There have since been many attempts to create a functioning national government, but for years progress stalled. The Islamic extremist group Al-Shabab gained momentum in the mid-2000s, causing huge amounts of violence and destruction in the region. They attacked national infrastructure, and at various points forced agencies who had been providing aid to withdraw. These tactics caused thousands to die, displaced thousands more and destroyed access to healthcare and education for many.

Human Rights Watch estimated in 2018 that over 2.5 million people were internally displaced, and agencies providing relief faced continued attacks and the inability to access those who need help. According to the World Bank, the poverty rate in Somalia today is roughly 70%, and “almost nine of 10 Somali households are deprived of at least one fundamental dimension: access to income, electricity, education or water and sanitation.” Life expectancy is low as well, figured to be roughly 53 years for men and 57 for women. These issues are both caused and compounded by the constant violence; the civil war deprived many of access to necessities like food and housing, and it continues to be a daily worry even with other equally pressing needs.

Locusts and Food Security

It is against this backdrop that Somalia is currently dealing with a plague of epic proportions. Every year, there is an outbreak of locusts in Somalia and neighboring countries, and locals are accustomed to their presence on some level. However, 2020 is entirely different: Warming temperatures and increased flooding over the last several years created ideal conditions for locusts to breed and reproduce, leading to two separate waves of locusts this year alone. By all accounts, this invasion is the worst in 25 years, decimating a country that was already ill-equipped to deal with a disaster.

The first infestation of locusts in Somalia numbered in the hundreds of billions, blotting out the sky and destroying crops, farmland and any other vegetation they found. The second was even more devastating—trillions of locusts descended on East Africa and wiped out any chance of a successful harvest. The LA Times reports, “In a single day, a swarm can travel nearly 100 miles and eat its own weight in leaves, seeds, fruits and vegetables—as much as 35,000 people would consume. A typical swarm can stretch over 30 square miles.” It is nearly impossible to deal with them individually, and a lack of centralized response has left farmers to fend for themselves in an attempt to mitigate economic loss and save what they can of the most recent crop yield.

These waves of locusts ruined economic prospects for many Somali citizens, and left many in debt, unable to sell their harvest or participate in the local economy. The U.N. Food and Agriculture division estimates that 100% of sorghum and maize—both vital to the Somali economy—were affected or harmed by the infestation. Experts also worry that they will return in the spring of 2021 if allowed to continue breeding and growing to maturity unchecked. The unprecedented quantities this year make it difficult to contain, and there is now only a short window in which to act. Avoiding another round will require a timely and focused response.

Moving Forward

The good news is that there are tangible solutions, and possibilities remain for Somalia to revitalize their economy and recover from this devastation. Pesticides are proven to contain the insects, and the challenge now is to deploy them in high enough quantities that it might have a tangible effect. Currently, Somalia lacks the political will and infrastructure to supply enough planes to be useful, but the U.N. FAO has been meeting with both West African and European countries in an attempt to gather the resources necessary to fight the locusts.

Scientists have been working to develop a worthy biopesticide over the past decade, and there is now a working product that’s “cheaper, more effective, longer-lasting in the desert and easier to store,” according to Science Magazine. Somali politicians and leading experts in the field from around the world have been working to provide relief, and although locusts in Somalia have not been seen like this in many years, there are reasons to be hopeful, given the scenario. If aerial spraying becomes financially viable and available, it could provide significant relief and a renewed opportunity for those who have been affected.

One FAO official commented, “We’re already partnering with NASA, with NOAA, with the European Space Agency, with Cambridge University… all of these different entities have their own expertise.” Ultimately, a solution to locusts in Somalia is within reach—and it requires a combination of pesticides, more accurate predictors of future outbreaks and cheaper methods of delivery for needed chemicals. If this can be achieved, it would be critical in the fight for food and job security in the country, allowing the economy to flourish and crops to grow.

– Leo Posel
Photo: Flickr

Use of Chemical Pesticides
Despite their effectiveness in killing specific pests, historic incidents and unknowns related to chemical pesticides have led to public health concerns. Fears that people could be at risk if they consume food treated with chemical pesticides do have a foundation. Pesticides have been found to partially cause neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s Disease, among other maladies. Chemical pesticides cannot choose which organisms they kill, which can lead to raised ecosystem contamination and toxicity. Not all chemical pesticides directly harm humans. However, evidence of those that do, along with evidence for unintended ecological damage, led to efforts to reduce the use of chemical pesticides.

Neem as an Alternative

One of the most concerning side-effects of the use of chemical pesticides is their effect on bee populations. Bees are vital to crop pollination and indirectly help create much of the food that humans eat. Pesticide use is a primary cause of the current decline in beehive populations. American and European beekeepers report this is at around 30% per year.  Bee population decline contributes to food scarcity and poverty. When food becomes more scarce, prices rise and more people go hungry. Current conditions necessitate implementing an alternative to chemical pesticides that is safe for humans, certain insects and plants.

New research points to naturally derived pesticides as possibly safer and less damaging to the environment. Currently, the most promising natural solution is neem oil. Neem oil is an organic, naturally-derived substance from the Neem tree. The tree grows primarily in tropical regions. These areas tend to be most affected by insect infestations and represent some of the poorest areas in the world.

Neem oil use is not a new phenomenon. Traditional Indian farming methods practiced for thousands of years, and even folk medicines incorporate neem usage. It is effective at reducing specific insect populations while having minimal noted negative effects on beneficial insects like bees and worms. A number of agricultural companies have begun using neem in their products, and its use is only expected to grow as its efficacy is increasingly verified.

Outbreak and Application in Africa

In early 2020, East Africa faced its worst locust outbreak in decades. Swarms devoured hundreds of thousands of acres, fostering hunger and fear in local communities. Millions of people became more food insecure and the use of chemical pesticides became less viable. The COVID-19 pandemic upset the global chemical supply chain, which seems to have inhibited governments from receiving the large quantities of pesticides needed to make an impact against the locust invasion.

In response, some farmers in Kenya began making their own neem oil to push back against locust invasions. Neem oil can weaken locusts’ reproductive ability and potentially kill them, which reduces the current and future populations. While it was too late to make a big impact against the swarms, individual farmers protected their crops. If enough farmers learn to make their own oil in the future, or if it is produced cheaply on a large scale, Kenya could have an effective, safe defense against locust invasions. Other countries in the region also afflicted by locust swarms stand to benefit from looking to Kenya as an example.

Potential for Future Practices

Chemical pesticide use is harmful to the environment and can create bad health outcomes for some people. Industrial use of neem oil instead of chemical pesticides could improve health conditions worldwide and protect ecosystems. On a smaller scale, it could protect the economic interests of poor farmers and people at risk of starvation. People may also be more accepting of the use of growable, natural pesticides over the use of chemical ones. Locally-made neem oil also mitigates environmental pollution. This puts more power into the hands of individual farmers. Though natural pesticide solutions require more research, they represent critical development in the future of agricultural pesticides.

Jeff Keare
Photo: Unsplash

hunger in somaliaOut of control locust swarms, intense droughts and heavy flooding have decimated crops and the livelihood of Somalis. These factors increase hunger in Somalia by leaving millions of people food insecure. Currently, 5.7 million people, almost half of Somalia’s population, are food insecure, and 2.7 million people cannot meet their daily food requirements. The country faces constant fighting, recurring locust swarms, droughts and floods – all of which drastically affect hunger in Somalia.

4 Reasons for Hunger in Somalia

  1. Ongoing conflict destabilizes the country, disrupts livelihoods and hinders aid distribution. Since gaining independence in 1960, Somalia has experienced conflict after conflict, destabilizing the country and harming its people. In 1988, a full-scale civil war broke out due to a power vacuum. Two warlords attempted to gain control of the country, both ultimately failing but subjecting Somalia to crisis. The fighting between these factions destroyed crops and stopped food distribution, causing a famine that killed 300,000 people. Currently, more than 2.6 million Somalis are internally displaced and 760,000 Somalis fled to neighboring countries, leaving their livelihoods behind. Even though a government was established in 2004, its power is extremely limited. Conflict continues around the country, decreasing stability and security while raising humanitarian issues — one of them being food insecurity.
  2. The biggest locust swarm Somalia has experienced in 25 years is currently ravaging crops and farmland. Compounding an already fragile situation, locusts are feasting on crops that could otherwise feed 280,000 people for six months. The locust outbreak originated in Yemen in December. Instead of dying out like expected, the locust numbers increased exponentially when nonseasonal rains allowed for breeding. Adult locusts cause incredible damage to crops: they can eat their body weight daily and can fly up to 93 miles to find food. If they are not controlled, the loss of crops will be severe. Currently, Somalia plans to use biopesticides — a fungus which produces a toxin meant to only kill locusts and related grasshoppers — to get rid of the swarms. Due to the unstable nature of Somalia’s government, using planes to spray insecticide from the air is impossible, so the biopesticide is a reliable alternative.
  3. Somalia is suffering from a 10-year-long drought. For the past decade, drought has severely affected Somalia’s largely agricultural population and contributed to hunger in Somalia. During this time, Somalia only had one proper rainy season. Thus, in 2011 the drought became so bad it triggered a famine. For a famine to occur, three things must happen: a failure of food production, an inability to access food and a failure of governments and international donors to respond. First, the drought killed off crops and livestock, so people lost their income and purchasing power; they were no longer able to obtain food. Lastly, donors did not react quickly enough or provide as much aid as was needed — the U.N. only raised $200 million out of the needed $1 billion. Because of this “triple failure,” this famine killed around 260,000 people. So when the drought worsened in 2017 – 2019, the response, while still not adequate, was enough to keep the situation from turning into a famine. However, 6.7 million people were still left without access to food. Cholera, diarrhea and measles outbreaks accompanied the drought, and because people were dehydrated and weak from hunger these outbreaks had a heavy toll, infecting more than 16,000 people.
  4. Seasonal rains turn into destructive flash floods. By April 2020, the seasonal Gu’ rains, which last from April through June, flooded more than 27 districts and caused the Shabelle and Juba Rivers to overflow. The floods affected close to 1.2 million people and displaced 436,000. While the Gu’ rains are expected — and are often a respite from the long-lasting droughts — they are often destructive. In the Doolow district alone, floods destroyed 1,200 farms and 12,000 hectares of farmland. This kind of rainfall does not help Somalia against its drought, but instead overwhelms communities and causes even more destruction.

With upcoming elections, Somalia has an opportunity to take a step forward into peace and stability. While the locust swarms, drought and floods threaten to undermine Somalia’s future, a stronger government will be able to slow conflict and bring security back, allowing for better management of resources to prevent hunger in Somalia from continuing.

– Zoe Padelopoulos
Photo: Flickr


Somalia faces a constant struggle for enough resources to feed the entire population. Millions of citizens throughout Somalia suffer from hunger and poverty. Somalia is located in an area that suffers from extreme droughts and experienced one in late 2019. Droughts throughout Somalia leave millions of people without proper resources, as animals and crops go without proper nutrition to ensure food for citizens. However, Somalia, and Africa as a whole, are dealing with a more destructive problem this year. Locusts are impacting both the economy and the issue of starvation in Somalia, with millions and maybe even billions of insects flying across the continent. For a country that is currently dealing with hunger and poverty issues, locusts and their growth could be extremely detrimental to Somalia.

The Second Wave of Locusts in Somalia

According to recent studies and developments, there is currently a second wave of locusts swarming throughout Somalia and Africa. The second wave has the potential to be more harmful to the economy of Somalia because it is occurring during harvest season. The harvesting of crops is a positive thing for the citizens who continue to lack food and resources. Millions of locusts can cause enough damage to crops to equate to feeding a small population city. Furthermore, Somalia has not experienced a plague of locusts as strong as this one in about 25 years.

Additionally, COVID-19 is making this plague more damaging for Somalia and the citizens. The combination of both events will cause over 25 million Africans to not have proper food resources throughout the remainder of the year.

All Hands-on Deck Approach to Locusts in Somalia

To ensure that the effect on locusts on the economy and starvation in Somalia is minimal, the government has decided to join with the organization Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). This partnership includes efforts to control and stop the growth and spread of locusts around Somalia and Africa. The control of this plague ensures that Somalia does not take a dramatic and harmful hit to the economy. It would also protect citizens from food shortages.

The Somalian government depends on communities to assist with controlling the spread as well. These efforts include using ground and air vehicles to spray pesticides on developing eggs and locusts flying throughout affected areas. Thirty ground vehicles are being used to control spread and growth. These vehicles can destroy eggs and developing locusts which are not able to fly. Additionally, in May, two helicopters were brought in to help control flying locusts and cover widely affected areas. So far, FAO has covered over 197,000 acres of land throughout Somalia and plans to cover over 444,000 acres by the end of 2020. Going forward, FAO will conduct similar control efforts. This plan also has the possibility to take care of any future swarms of locusts that may occur.

Looking Forward

Somalia, and Africa, continue to struggle with locusts swarming and developing. The locusts have had a negative effect on the economy and starvation in Somalia. The country already has millions of citizens who lack the proper amount of daily food resources. Additionally, Somalia has experienced droughts that have changed the economic outlook of the country in recent years. Adding the plague of locusts into the equation will only continue to damage food resources in Somalia, especially since they are arriving during harvest season. However, the Somalian government has decided to address this problem by working with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). This organization created control efforts to stop the growth and development of locusts. FAO has covered massive amounts of Somalian land with control efforts and plans to continue covering more land throughout 2020.

– Jamal Patterson 
Photo: Flickr

Locusts in East AfricaIn 2020, the world is facing many hardships. Especially in East Africa, where swarms of locusts are devastating the local agricultural systems. There can be up to 70 billion locusts in one swarm, with each of them eating their own body weight (about 0.07 ounces) in foliage every day. In total, these locusts in East Africa are eating 300 million pounds of crops per day, in an area the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes for its’ “severe food insecurity.”

Influence of Climate Change

Why is this happening in 2020? The answer is climate change, according to experts. Desert locusts, in normal times, are mostly reclusive and don’t often interact with each other. According to these experts, recent and rare cyclones, caused by warming oceans that hit the dry deserts of the Arabian Peninsula in 2018 and 2019, caused the desert to experience rains that it had not seen in a very long time. This caused physiological and mental changes in the locusts that have made them more ravenous than usual.  They grow larger, change color and their brains get bigger. They begin to behave in similar ways to one another and form swarms that can travel over 100 miles per day in search of food.

Funding Needed

This comes amid a global pandemic that is already taking human lives and wreaking havoc on the economy. The FAO is calling on U.N. members to contribute more financial assistance for local governments than it is currently receiving, about an estimated $138 million needed in total. This will go toward ways of combating the locusts, such as the use of pesticides.

COVID-19’s Impact

Imports of pesticides come from the Netherlands, Morocco and Japan, among other outside sources. However, this means that these pesticides that are desperately needed are slowed by COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions placed on cargo. Equipment needed for dispersal of the pesticides is made in China and helicopters meant to track locust movements are from Canada. The international pilots for the helicopters have to quarantine when arriving. All of these roadblocks cause the loss of precious time in the fight against the locusts.

This ongoing issue of locusts in East Africa could get worse if U.N. members do not follow through on the FAO’s funding recommendations. This locust plague, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, could cause a large loss of life in East Africa. However, the migratory nature of locusts makes it likely they will move to countries where there are national programs in place to address them. Hopefully, with the help of U.N. funds, East Africa can implement successful changes as well.

– Tara Suter
Photo: Flickr

locusts_Madagascar

Locust swarms in Madagascar are destroying rice fields and causing hunger in areas of the country. Even so, the locals are attempting to make the best out of a bad situation by catching as many of the insects as they can to supplement their diet. There are reports of locals catching locusts with mosquito nets, while in the Sakaraha area children are assisting with a most unusual form of harvesting—catching the locusts with their hands and drowning them in buckets of water. The insects are then sun-dried and roasted on sticks or fried. According to the villagers who have consumed the insects, they taste salty.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported locusts are rich in protein and present no health risks, as long as they are not treated with pesticides. During periods of increased locusts activity, large amounts of the dead insects can be found readily available in the market places of many affected areas.

In an affected region, a subsistence farmer, who feeds a household of 10 from the three annual harvests she receives from her two fields (one for the rice, the other for vegetables), told IRIN about the damage the locusts had caused. “Normally we can live from the food we grow, but this is the hardest year we have ever had. The locusts ate all the rice, everything,” she said. “It’s not life right now, we are just surviving.” Despite locusts still in the area, she recently planted more rice, risking the chance that the insects would not return.

Locusts are a far from suitable substitute for rice, the farmer stated. The insects can only be stored for about a week as opposed to rice, which can be stored for extended periods of time.

Hasibelo Rakotovao, the National Locust Agency’s (CNA) Sakaraha agent, informed IRIN that the last time the government took preventative measures against locusts in the area was June 2011. Other CNA agents reported their work was made nearly impossible by the restructuring of the under-funded Agriculture Ministry. They received only a tenth of the necessary amount of pesticide needed to cover the area.

Locusts in the region began swarming in April 2013. Since then, the area has witnessed 2 to 3 swarms a week. “These swarms are now in their fifth generation (having reproduced five times). The situation will get even worse if nothing is done by October and another generation starts up again,” Rakotovao told IRIN. Current national and international efforts to rid the country of the insects continue to fall short due to the lack of government funding.

Scarlet Shelton

Sources: IRIN, AllAfrica, FAO

madagascar-locust-problem

Madagascar has been facing a locust plague the past couple of years, and the problem is only getting worse. The Food and Agriculture Organization for the UN (FAO) has begun a campaign for $22 million to combat this plague. The FAO estimates that by September, locusts will infest more than two-thirds of the country. This plague has serious implications for food security and nutrition in Madagascar. Nearly 13 million people’s food security will be impacted by this plague, and nine million of those people are directly dependent on agriculture for food and income.

“If we don’t act now, the plague could last years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. This could very well be a last window of opportunity to avert extended crisis,” said Jose Graziano da Silva, Director-General of FAO.

To have any hope of saving the crops of 2013 there will need to be preventative measures taken, starting as early as July. FAO argues that the funding must be given by July as well as not cut to a smaller amount or there will be no hope for Madagascar. In 2003-2005 when the Sahel region experienced a locust plague it cost almost $570 million to repair the damages. Furthermore it only costs $3.3 million a year to take preventative measures against locust.

The FAO will lead aerial control operations with the money funded. These operations will identify and eliminate locust populations. If these populations of locust are not identified and destroyed they will continue to breed and produce more swarms. This could lead to several years of prolonged locust plagues. In Madagascar crops that have been affected are averaging a loss of 40 to 70 percent of their crops, with reports of 100 percent loss of land. The locusts have already caused the loss of a quarter of Madagascar’s rice production this year. This will severely affect food security because rice is the main staple of food in Madagascar. The FAO must receive full funding on this project if there is any hope of saving Madagascar from a debilitating locust plague.

– Catherine Ulrich

Sources: FAO, AlertNet, UPI
Photo: UN News Centre

imageFAO Allocates Funding to Combat Locust Crop Destruction in Sudan
As though part of some biblical plague of the ancient world, the recent swarms of invading locusts have wreaked havoc on the crops of many North African countries. In an effort to both stem the flow of the relentless Lucusta migratoria and prevent future flare-ups, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has donated 1 million dollars to help fight the locust crop destruction in Sudan.

The funds, which resulted from joint cooperation of donors that included $400,000 from Saudi Arabia, $75,000 from the CRC’s emergency trust, and $500,000 from the FAO, will serve as a much needed shot in the arm in the ongoing war against the locust crop destruction in Sudan. The locusts, which began their migration back in February, initially did little damage to the Sudanese agricultural industry. However, the previous swarms laid eggs across much of the county, and like a ticking time bomb are expected to hatch risking further locust crop destruction in Sudan, which could decimate their spring and summer harvests.

The recent allocation of funds from the FAO is great news in the continuing effort of preventing further locust crop destruction in Sudan. Furthermore, through the combined funding of several generous donors, along with the agricultural expertise of the FAO, countries such as Sudan that have been dealing with the ravages of the locust swarms can now look forward to some much-needed relief.

– Brian Turner
Source African Brains
PhotoThe Desert Review