World Markets

Swelled by rain and COVID curbs, locust swarms ravage Ethiopia

Widow-of-ten Marima Wadisha screamed, threw rocks and in her desperation even fired bullets at the locusts that descended on her sorghum fields in northeast Ethiopia.

By Tiksa Negeri

KOMBOLCHA, Ethiopia, Oct 20 (Reuters) - Widow-of-ten Marima Wadisha screamed, threw rocks and in her desperation even fired bullets at the locusts that descended on her sorghum fields in northeast Ethiopia.

But the insect swarms were so relentless that her entire crop - her family's only source of income - was destroyed.

"They never left for a week. We are left with an empty harvest, we tie our waist and cry day and night. How can (I) feed ... my children like this," she said, surrounded by five of them as she held a bundle of damaged sorghum.

The locust invasion is Ethiopia's worst in 25 years, United Nations food agency FAO says.

It has damaged an estimated 200,000 hectares of land there since January, threatening food supplies - a single square kilometre swarm can eat as much food in a day as 35,000 people - and the livelihoods of millions.

It is part of a once-in-a-lifetime succession of swarms that have plagued East Africa and the Red Sea region since late 2019, with the coronavirus pandemic exacerbating the crisis this year by disrupting the FAO's supply chain of pesticides and other equipment to fight them off.

"The biggest challenge now in the region is here, in Ethiopia and we are working on that together with our partners like the FAO," said the Desert Locust Control Organization's Eastern Africa Director for Eastern Africa Stephen Njoka.

Conflict and chaos in Yemen, where some of the swarms originated, have made spraying pesticide by airplane at source impossible. That combined with unusually heavy rains have swelled the swarms spreading across Ethiopia.

The World Bank has said the insects could cost East Africa and Yemen $8.5 billion this year, and the FAO's Ethiopia representative Fatouma Seid fears the pattern of destruction will be repeated next year.

"Infestation will continue into 2021. We are being re-invaded and the swarms will then go to Kenya," she said.

(Reporting by Tiksa Negeri Writing by Giulia Paravicini Editing by Maggie Fick and John Stonestreet)

((Giulia.Paravicini@thomsonreuters.com; +254 20 499 1232; Reuters Messaging: giulia.paravicini.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Latest Markets Videos

    Reuters

    Reuters, the news and media division of Thomson Reuters, is the world’s largest international multimedia news provider reaching more than one billion people every day. Reuters provides trusted business, financial, national, and international news to professionals via Thomson Reuters desktops, the world's media organizations, and directly to consumers at Reuters.com and via Reuters TV.

    Learn More