Gigantic new locust swarms hit East Africa

Photograph by David Chancellor, National Geographic
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An adult desert locust is one of the most destructive migratory pests in the world: It can eat its own bodyweight, or about 0.07 ounces, in vegetation every day. Since January, Kenya has experienced its worst locust invasion in 70 years. As the pests continue to multiply and East Africa moves further into its growing season, when crops are particularly vulnerable, experts are concerned the infestation could push up to 25 million East Africans into hunger.

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“These...swarms...are terrifying,” Albert Lemasulani narrated breathlessly as he recorded a video of himself swatting his way through a crush of desert locusts in northern Kenya this April. The insects, more than two inches long, whirred around him in thick clouds, their wings snapping like ten thousand card decks being shuffled in unison. He groaned: “They are in the millions. Everywhere…eating...it really is a nightmare.”

Lemasulani, 40, lives with his family in Oldonyiro, where he herds goats that survive on shrubs and trees. He’d previously heard of locusts only from stories passed down in the community. That changed earlier this year when the largest invasion of the voracious insects in decades descended on East Africa. With their seemingly bottomless appetites, locusts can cause devastating agricultural losses. An adult desert locust can munch through its own bodyweight, about 0.07 ounces, of vegetation every day. Swarms can swell to 70 billion insects—enough to blanket New York City more than once—and can destroy 300 million pounds of crops in a single day. Even a more modest gathering of 40 million desert locusts can eat...

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