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Updated Jul 3, 2020
Locusts swarm from ground vegetation as people approach at Lerata village, near Archers Post in Samburu county, approximately 300 kilomters (186 miles) north of kenyan capital, Nairobi on January 22, 2020. "Ravenous swarms" of desert locusts in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, already unprecedented in their size and destructive potential, threaten to ravage the entire East Africa subregion, the UN warned on January 20, 2020. The outbreak of desert locusts, considered the most dangerous locust species, is “significant and extremely dangerous” warned the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, describing the infestation as an eminent threat to food security in months to come” if control measures are not taken. TONY KARUMBA / AFP
Locusts swarm from ground vegetation as people approach at Lerata village, about 300 kilometers north of Nairobi, Kenya, on January 22, 2020. (Tony Karumba/AFP)

Before being struck by a once-in-a-generation global pandemic, the Horn of Africa was already contending with a locust plague the likes of which hadn’t been experienced in several generations. A second, larger wave of the destructive desert locusts has been making its way across Somalia, Kenya, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, threatening food security for millions of people and costing the region (along with Yemen) up to US$8.5 billion according to the World Bank.

 

The fungus has proven to be deadly to locusts while not harming other insects

 

The effectiveness of chemical pesticides to control locust swarms has been limited, at best, due to the swarms’ quick pace and size, along with limited resources as these nations and foreign donors focus on COVID-19. Thus, it fell to the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), an international research institute housed in Nairobi, Kenya, to devise more innovative and environmentally friendly means of tackling the locust problem.

One approach has been the use of a biopesticide developed from the Metarhizium acridum fungus, which has proven to be deadly to locusts while not harming other insects.

Commercial brands use this kind of fungus in their powder products. Such powders are mixed with oil and sprayed onto fields from planes or trucks. The fungus then penetrates the locust’s hard outer layer and starts feeding on the insect, sapping away

Another tactic homes in on locust pheromones, disrupting their biochemistry to break up swarms before they form and encouraging cannibalization among immature locusts before they gain the ability to fly.

A third approach is to introduce the protein-rich locusts as a foodstuff—either cooked or crushed—for people and animals. ICIPE is developing nets and backpack-vacuums to capture large numbers of locusts. 

 

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