• laurenwintraub

Climate Change, Potential Famine, and COVID-19: African agriculture threatened by locust infestation

Updated: May 23

Weeks before the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, many African countries were facing another national emergency - extremely large locust outbreaks. In fact, this locust infestation is the largest recorded for many counties in the last 70 years (1).

Desert locusts are a kind of grasshopper and usually live antisocial lives. However, certain environmental conditions can lead these locusts to transform into Jekyll and Hyde locusts, which become quite social and begin to reproduce rapidly. As they continue to reproduce, they can create massive swarms of up to 10 billion locusts that traverse over 200 kilometres daily. One swarm alone can ravish crop fields, destroying agriculture that can supply over 2500 people with a year’s supply of food (2).

The cause of this year's infestation is thought to have been fueled by the climate crisis. In 2018 and 2019, the countries between India and West Africa experienced cyclones and heavy rain. The environmental state created by these extreme weather conditions may have allowed locust populations to grow without being noticed. In early 2019, swarms began to ravish agriculture in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Eritrea, and Djibouti (2). See the image below to follow the movement of the locusts.


Figure: Movement of locust swarms across the Middle East and Eastern Africa. These locust swarms are thought to be fueled by extreme weather conditions due to climate change. (source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-84994842-8967-4dfd-9490-10f805de9f68)

Currently, Eastern African countries including Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, and Kenya are suffering greatly because of these swarms. It is predicted that the swarms are consuming just under 2 million tonnes of agriculture per day, and some swarms are thought to cover an area comparable to almost half a million football fields (2). With these locusts continuing to grow, millions, especially those living in rural farming communities are threatened. In fact, the UN has declared the infestations an ‘unprecedented threat’ to many individuals living in the affected countries and announced they will require 153 million dollars to address the issue now. At this time, the Food and Agriculture Organization has collected 11 million dollars for these purposes (1).


The simultaneous COVID-19 pandemic is making the response to these locusts more difficult. The most effective and now necessary method of combating the infestation involves the release of pesticides from helicopters flying over farming lands (1). However, due to the pandemic countries like Uganda are having difficulty importing the needed dowsing materials from other countries due to the restrictions and delayed shipments caused by virus precautions. Even efforts by locals to gather outside their farming lands and either spray pesticides or create loud noises to ward off the insects has been greatly impaired to due social distancing practices (1).

Events like these highlight the extremely deleterious and far-reaching effects climate change can have on countries around the world. Similar, though not as severe, events have already begun to occur in Canada. With the average temperature of Alberta rising due to climate change, in conjunction with shorter winters, mountain pine beetles have started to infest the province wiping out many pine tree populations. One of our earlier articles describes how these invasive species have had an even larger effect on the environment as it has led to a decrease in usable carbon stores and increased burning to eliminate the infected trees (3). This shows how in Africa, Canada, and around the world, climate change brings about countless devastating side effects that add to the global burden of a warming planet.


References


1) Muhamuza R. New, larger wave of locusts threatens millions in Africa. CTV News, 2020. Available from https://www.ctvnews.ca/world/new-larger-wave-of-locusts-threatens-millions-in-africa-1.4891364

2) Visual Journalism Team. How a single locust becomes a plague. BBC News, 2020. Available from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-84994842-8967-4dfd-9490-10f805de9f68

3) Giacomodonato H. Cold Snap Kills Mountain Pine Beetle: Canadian Forests’ Littlest Big Threat. Shake Up The Establishment, 2020. Available from https://www.shakeuptheestab.org/post/pine-beetle

Who We Are

Shake Up The Establishment is a youth-led, registered (#1190975-4) national non-partisan non-profit organization that operates within the geographical confines of what is currently known as "Canada", but what is referred to by its First Peoples, as Turtle Island. Indigenous peoples have inhabited Turtle Island for over 10,000 years, and were the sole inhabitants less than 500 years ago. We acknowledge that our address resides on Treaty 3 land, and is the traditional territory of the Erie, Neutral, Huron-Wendat, Haudenosaunee and Mississaugas Peoples. Turtle Island is still home to many Indigenous peoples and we at SUTE are thankful to be able to live, learn and work on this territory, whilst continuing to create meaningful change for the climate justice movement. We are aware that our actions as an organization and the work we put out have an impact on our land, and on all that inhabit it. We are humbled to be able to follow the lead of centuries long Indigenous-led efforts towards the protection and stewardship of this land and the people that inhabit it. We are committed to continually evaluating & decolonizing our practices, and we do our best to incorporate the lived experiences of the land defenders and protectors within our work. We also want to honour the voices of Black, and non-Black people of colour within our work, and continually recognize their resiliency in the face of years of systemic oppression as imposed by the Canadian state.

 

Our enterprise is inclusive of all folx who call the geographical confines of what is currently known as Canada, home, and we celebrate the horizontal learning that comes from our diverse identities. As an organization, we will try our utmost best to ensure that only individuals with lived experiences are speaking on behalf of their communities, while still recognizing that Black, Indigenous and communities of colour as well as the LGBTQ2S+ community, are not a monolith. We firmly believe in accountability, and commit to being as transparent as possible in our activism space; to research our topics well, support and centre community care, and minimize any harm, no matter the intent. We have strict policies and procedures to uphold these tenets, and update these on a yearly (or as-needed) basis.

106-325 Winterberry Drive, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8J 0B6

© 2020 Shake Up The Establishment

Stay Caught Up!

Sign up to receive our monthly newsletter for major political updates, our latest educational resources, events and more!