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Updated Mar 5, 2020

Last week, the European Union contributed US$12.1 million to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to assist in efforts to combat the locust swarms rapidly spreading across the Horn of Africa and now into the Great Lakes region. The UN estimates that if sufficient measures aren’t taken, the locust populations could expand as much as 400 times by June, with total numbers of locusts in the tens of billions. Desert locust swarms can consume the same amount of food as 35,000 people in a single day.


Why It Matters

This recent locust outbreak is the worst one Ethiopia and Somalia have seen in twenty-five years. For Kenya, a plague like this hasn’t been experienced for more than seventy years. The voracious appetite of the desert locust threatens food security for a region that’s already precarious in its ability to meet basic nutritional needs. Lack of access to basic amenities such as food threatens not only the health but also the livelihoods of millions of Africans, which could contribute to an increase in migrants seeking a better standard of living elsewhere, contributing to Africa’s already extensive internal displacement problem.


Investment in Technology

Ethiopia, one of the first and hardest hit countries, is racing to get a handle on the locust infestation ahead of the February–May rainfall season, locally known as the Belg. UN funding is intended to supply equipment and support to on-the-ground teams in East Africa, with the focus on biopesticide management and surveillance technologies. The FAO is pursuing an additional US$10 million from USAID, Sweden, and Germany. US$50.5 million of the FAO’s total US$138 million request has been earmarked for Ethiopia specifically.

In addition to funding, the FAO recently signed a memorandum of understanding to accelerate the development of a new app that will help track the locusts to aid in early warning and targeted spraying campaigns. Penn State University’s agricultural research and development unit, PlantVillage, is developing an update to an existing app called eLocust3, launched in 2015. This new version is a simpler iteration meant to be deployed as broadly as possible, given the much higher number of active locust containment teams this time around.

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