Spurred by climate change, civil war and poverty, a new plague of locusts is sweeping though northeastern Africa.
And experts say the out-of-control insect swarms are going to get worse before they get better.
Previously, locusts — also known as short-horned grasshoppers — haven’t appeared in such numbers in the region since the 1950s.
Tens of millions
The species’ scientific name, Schistocerca gregaria, refers to its habit of swarming in vast, nomadic “gregaria” that number in the tens of millions of individuals.
The United Nations has warned that their numbers may grow hundreds of times larger this year after a couple more breeding cycles
Currently, locust gregaria dozens of kilometers long are eating their way through the crops and pastures of Yemen and the Horn of Africa — Ethiopia, Somalia and northern Kenya — and are showing up in Uganda and Tanzania to the south, and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to the east.
Most vulnerable to their ravages are the subsistence farmers and herders who populate places like Yemen and the Horn, which are among the world’s poorest regions.
Largely outside the money economy, they depend on this year’s grasses and crops to survive — but the locusts have already eaten their sustenance.
In addition to causing hunger and famine, the devouring grasshoppers also provoke conflict when herders are forced to move to new areas to find forage for their livestock.
The current plague, which the United Nations has warned may grow hundreds of times larger this year after a couple more breeding cycles, has been caused by an increase in Indian Ocean cyclones over the past two years.
This has created a surfeit of greenery in the normal arid ecosystems of southwest Asia and east Africa.
More greenery equals more locust food.
More than just climate change
Another reason behind the swarms is the civil war in Yemen.
While countries such as Mauritania are able to control grasshoppers by pesticide spraying programs early in the insects’ life cycle. none of this happened in Yemen last year.
Years of devastating war meant that the threat of the locusts were ignored until it was too late — and local remedies, such as setting smoky fires, did not help.
But aerial spraying this year may help get the insect plague under control.
And then there’s a biological control-method that might not be as outlandish as it sounds.
That would be entomophagy — eating bugs.
Doug Yanega, an entomologist at University of California, Riverside, suggests that the locusts, which are edible, should be harvested for human consumption.
Far from being an outlandish idea, insect eating, including grasshoppers, is already widespread in many parts of the world, including Africa.
Sources: The Guardian, Newsweek, The National (Abu Dhabi)