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Sunday, July 5, 2020

July 05, 2020
Locusts swarm a residential area of Quetta, Pakistan, Friday, June 12, 2020. Officials say an outbreak of desert locusts across the countryis threatening food security.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Arshad Butt

Swarms of desert locusts are descending ravenously around the world.

In the horn of Africa, they're roving through croplands and flattening farms in a devastating barrage. Experts say the event is an unprecedented threat to the region’s food security.

Swarms eat everything in their path, destroying entire fields of crops, and planters can do little but watch with horror and dismay.

Since the start of the year, locust swarms have also been spotted in India, Yemen, and Argentina and they're now threatening to spill over to Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil.

The tiny creatures reproduce rapidly and once airborne, they are much harder to contain: swarms of locusts can travel 200 kilometres a day.

Keith Cressman, the senior locust forecasting officer at the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization, told Euronews that "extremely good weather conditions" have allowed the creatures to breed and multiply very rapidly.

Last month, Brazil's agriculture declared a crop emergency in two southern states amid the possibility that a cloud of locusts could enter the country.

The agriculture ministry said it believed that climate change – and its impact on rising temperatures and humidity – had caused the insects to swarm more frequently.

Precision spraying
Although locusts have been decried as a plague on mankind since biblical times, they do have some ecological benefits as their faeces are a rich fertiliser. And while locusts will eat a plant's green shoots, they generally don't kill the plant.

But this is little consolation for those whose livestock rely on the same green shoots to survive, and farmers worry about what the infestations will mean for their crops.

International organisations have already spent millions this year funding mass aerial sprays with pesticides to kill the swarms.

Cressman stressed it was important to ensure the spraying is precise and lands exactly on the locusts, something that teams sent in by national authorities are generally well trained to do.

"You cannot spray the crops or the environment or the pastures. And in about 24 hours, those pesticides break down, they're no longer toxic," he explained.

"The problem is when you have so many swarms that can quickly overwhelm the national capacities, then the international community needs to step in and upscale those operations."