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‘Teeth of the wind’ is what locust swarms are also called in Africa. Teeth that, within seconds, remorselessly strip bare entire swathes of land. ‘We found huge swarms of locusts in bushes, on the fields, even in the forests’, says the Ethiopian small farmer and family man Amanuel Bure (50). ‘The insects left behind bare earth and millions of eggs. Now, the hatched hoppers feed on the newly sown crops. Everything was in vain, we will lose this harvest too.’
The huge swarms – often covering several hundred square kilometres – consist of hundreds of millions of insects and can move up to 150 kilometres per day. Wherever they land, not a blade of grass is left.
An incredibly difficult fight
The affected countries such as Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somaliland are making great efforts to stem the invasion. People try to drive the locusts away by using sticks, smoke and noise. The governments are using aircraft that spray whole swathes of land with pesticides.
But the locust swarms grow rapidly. Their number can multiply by a factor of 20 within three months, and in favourable conditions, there can even be 8000 times as many locusts within nine months.
More than half the harvest wiped out
The effect on the livelihood of smallholder farmer and pastoralist families in the rural areas is dramatic. The swarms are arriving in the region, one of the poorest in the world, just as the sowing and harvest season starts. ‘In our project areas, the locust swarms have destroyed more than half of the harvest and large areas of pasture’, says Jens Steuernagel, country director of Caritas Switzerland in Ethiopia. The smallholder farmer and pastoralist families had already been severely affected by the recurrent droughts of recent years. Now they have lost their entire harvest and the fodder for their animals, which are starving in increasing numbers. The situation is further aggravated by the Corona crisis as food prices rise and fighting the plague becomes more difficult. An acute famine is threatening.
In Ethiopia alone, around eight and a half million people are already affected by acute food insecurity, six million of them live in regions in which locusts leave fear and bare fields in their wake. On behalf of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, Caritas is helping the hardest hit families in the south-east of the country with an emergency aid project started in June. They receive cash to enable them to buy the most essential food items and protection material for their animals in the short term. Caritas also distributes wheat seeds so that people can soon harvest their crop again and better compensate for future losses.
The swarms continued to grow at the beginning of 2020 and now also threaten South Sudan. There, Caritas is planning a project to prevent and control the locust infestation. In addition, seeds will also be distributed to affected families.
In crisis-torn Somalia, more than 2.6 million people live in locus-infested regions. In the remote areas of Somaliland, disinformation is particularly widespread. Caritas is currently investigating a project that focuses on information and prevention.
With your donation, we can protect even more people from the consequences of the biggest locust plague in decades.