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Why gigantic locust swarms are challenging governments and researchers

Source(s):  Nature Research

By Antoaneta Roussi


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has appealed for US$138 million in urgent funding — half to support affected communities and half to curb the locusts’ spread. At the same time, researchers say, better monitoring is needed to predict the insects’ movement and growth, and alternatives to synethetic chemical pesticides are required to attack locusts before they breed in larger numbers.


The present outbreaks coincided with cyclones in 2018, and warm weather at the end of 2019, combined with unusually heavy rains. Large swarms were detected at the start of 2020 in Ethiopia and Somalia. From here, they spread rapidly to countries including Kenya — where they are the worst for 70 years — Uganda and Sudan. Swarms have also been forming in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan and India.


Furthermore, locust monitoring in Africa is severely underfunded, says Robert Cheke, a zoologist at the Natural Resources Institute in London, which is advising Uganda on locust control. Cheke says that many of the affected countries are behind in funding the Desert Locust Control Organization for Eastern Africa (DLCO-EA) in Addis Ababa, which provides a locust early-warning system and helps to control outbreaks.


Researchers are also concerned that spraying chemicals such as the widely used insecticide chlorpyrifos could be harmful to humans and the environment. So Cheke and his colleagues are advising on alternative control measures — especially biologically based ‘biopesticides’ — that can target insects without damaging the surrounding environment.


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  • Publication date 12 Mar 2020

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