Pests in the Horn of Africa

Brian Hilyard
Staff Writer

To say that farmers are having a bad time in East Africa would be an understatement. The Associated Press reports that giant swarms of locusts are eating up acres of crops as they move through the region. In Kenya, a minuscule fleet of just five planes is spraying crops with pesticides, bringing back disturbing memories of jets dumping water on wildfires in California.

The region has experienced unusually wet weather, fueling the breeding rates of these insects. It is vital to the local people, and their economies, to get this situation under control before harvest season in April.

The United Nations is rushing to aid the fight against the swarms. If left unchecked, the locust populations can multiply rapidly. Millions in the region are already facing food shortages. The Wall Street Journal reports that a swarm in Ethiopia can currently cover up to 700 square miles at a time. If they are also correct about swarms being able to grow up to 500 times larger, the swarm could grow to the size of two times the size of Texas, three times the size of California, and one hundred times the size of New Jersey.

Unfortunately, while local government waits for assistance from the UN, they are having to doing the best they can with limited resources and inexperience dealing with such situations. Police units in Kenya even tried using tear gas and bullets.

Logistically, even though aerial spraying is the only effective method of combating the infestation, there are concerns that targeting areas where militants operate could be dangerous. In addition, swarms can travel up to 90 miles a day, and it could take farmers several days to move livestock out of targeted areas. Not to mention, swarms of this size can pose dangers to pilots trying to operate in them.

If there is anything positive happening as a result of this infestation, it is that this is a great opportunity to test how drones can be used to deal with similar situations in the future, the BBC writes. These methods are being put to the test in Mauritania and could make a difference in future infestations.

A similar locust outbreak that happened back in the early 2000s in North Africa cost almost three-quarters of a billion dollars to manage, eliminate, and recover from.

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