“This is what the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, says: ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me. If you refuse to let them go, I will bring locusts into your country tomorrow. They will cover the face of the ground so that it cannot be seen. They will devour what little you have left after the hail, including every tree that is growing in your fields. They will fill your houses and those of all your officials and all the Egyptians—something neither your fathers nor your forefathers have ever seen from the day they settled in this land till now.”
— Exodus 10:3–6
Many people have a favorite food. I do, probably you do too, but often, in developed countries, people glaze over the origin and painful process behind the food that we love and crave so much. People who don’t rely on food as a source of income don’t take into thought where the food came from, where the ingredients originated from, who grew the ingredients, none of these things are taken into account by the average person in a developed country. However, in developing countries, food is the way of life. Agriculture plays one of the largest roles when it comes to the economy because it’s a reliable source of income and money when the circumstances are favorable.
Unfortunately, an unexpected turn of events have occurred – during the past two years, the ideal breeding environment for locusts has come to fruition mainly in Africa, the east especially, due to widespread heavy rainfall, the Indian Ocean Dipole, consecutive cyclones, and global warming. The environment is so ideal to the point where, according to the OCHA/FAO Briefing on the Desert Locust Situation in East Africa, the 2020 Dessert Locusts Infestation represents the worst infestation in 25 years for Ethiopia and Somalia and in 70 years for Kenya.
The short-horned grasshoppers are the most destructive of the grasshopper species, infamous for their own for their voraciousness and ability to quickly adapt under the right circumstances. When the circumstances are favourable for the locusts, the locusts go through a “gregarious phase” where they change their physiology and attract one another, causing an increase in number and migration.
According to the FAO, an average 1 kilometre square swarm — 40 to 80 million locusts — can consume as much food as 35,000 people in a day.
To put the damage into perspective: there was a 2400 kilometre square swarm in northeast Kenya. This locust infestation is detrimental for the affected areas not only because the hungry pests are arriving in large numbers, but also because harvesting season is right around the corner and agriculture is an important part of survival for developing nations. The infestation thus connotes that there will be no salvaged food left for the survival of families and no food left to export to help support the continent’s economy. Unfortunately, this connotation has already become a reality in some places. For example, a handful of Amhara farms have already lost almost 100% of teff, a staple Ethiopian crop.
To make matters worse, COVID-19 Pandemic has already caused food security to decrease, so much so that twenty-five million people are expected to experience food insecurity in East Africa. Agricultural trade has been heavily restricted as a precaution, causing an abundance in supply in contrast to the demand, thus lowering the value of the crops. The pandemic has not only hurt the economy, but also the people, infecting more than 7 million worldwide. In addition to the pandemic, many of the affected areas are recovering from other things like recessions and wars. So, with money being put into protecting the civilians, keeping the countries running, and now having to use money to keep the resilient pests at bay, developing countries are taking quite a large and hard hit. According to the World Bank Group, 24 million people are food insecure and 8 million are internally displaced within the affected areas.
In short, the arrival of locusts also means the arrival of many problems for developing countries. The overwhelming swarm of locusts spontaneously appear and consume all the crops in many of the developing countries, namely the ones located in Africa. Once the crops are consumed, the farmers are left with little to no crops to sell and eat. The livestock are also put at risk due to the lack of vegetation to graze on, hurting the pastorals. Thus, the government and organizations are forced to provide expensive relief before things get too out of hand. The government and organizations use funds for spraying pesticides throughout the countries, unintentionally increasing health risks and harming other living organisms. In the previous major locust infestation, four-hundred-fifty million dollars was the cost of response and crop damage totaled up to be around $2.5 billion. As a result of locust infestations, developing nations are negatively affected economically and socially.