Swarms of around 400 Billion Migrating Desert Locusts may Reach as far as China

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February 15, 2020

The desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria), is considered the most dangerous of the nearly one dozen species of locusts. It is a major food security peril in desert areas across 20 countries stretching from West Africa to India, covering nearly 16 million square kilometers, according to the UN.

Desert Locust / Photo: Wikipedia

Southern Ethiopia in East Africa and parts of Kenya are suffering from a massive locust invasion. On February 11, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) issued a global warning that the locust plague may cause severe food shortages. Millions of people will need food relief to control the situation. FAO warns that if uncontrolled before the dry season in June, the number of locusts could increase 500-fold.

Locust army / Photo: Wikipedia

On February 10, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations called on countries to increase assistance to countries threatened by locusts.

Copulating Desert Locusts pair Photo: Wikipedia

The organization said it had raised $ 21 million in aid funds, but it was still far behind the $ 76 million needed. FAO officials say the number of locusts has increased by 64 million in one and a half years, and it is estimated that locusts in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia have reached 360 billion. These locusts are unprecedentedly destructive, causing food shortages in many places.

Locusts are the oldest migratory pests in the world, and desert locusts are one of the most destructive species. The number of locusts per square kilometer can reach 40 million, and they can fly 150 kilometers a day.

It is reported that the locust disaster started in Africa and then flew across the Red Sea into Europe and Asia. It has now reached Pakistan and India, which is only one step away from China.

According to India’s Minister of Finance, Rajasthan, swarms of around 400 billion locusts attacked the state, destroying large amounts of crops and continuing to spread to other states. Indian troops of  700,000 soldiers stationed in the state had to withdraw because of food shortages, directly easing pressure on Pakistan.

Some scholars in India predict that the locust plague will reduce India ’s food production by 30% -50%, which has greatly raised the concern of India’s government. Indian Prime Minister Modi offered an olive branch to Pakistan to request a truce.

Technology to control locusts still not positive

Despite advances in science and technology, locust control is still not positive, locusts are pushing daily into the Ethiopian granary in the Great Rift Valley of East Africa.

The best time to spray is when the locusts are still on the ground. Locusts are cold-blooded insects, they are not active before the day warms. Early morning is the best time to spray; unfortunately, it’s not effective during the frequent morning rain. The second obstacle is to spray when the plane takes off, but by then the locusts are already airborne.

The Ethiopian government hired a private company sprayer. The pilot recounted, “They fly up to about 914 meters blocking the wind tunnels of the aircraft. This is actually very dangerous.” Recently, after the pilot sprayed, the entire aircraft was covered with insect mucus, so much so that they could not even see the windshield.

The Ethiopian government commented: “The year 2020 is the year of locusts; we can’t just wait and see, otherwise the entire region will be swallowed up by a locust plague and it will become a big, very great crisis.”

How much influence does it have on China?

“It is extremely unlikely that desert locusts will directly migrate into China’s inland areas, but if the overseas desert locust plague persists, the probability of locusts entering China in the summer will sharply increase”, a Chinese agricultural expert said Monday as reported by Xinhuanet

As Pakistan and India are neighbors of China, is there a threat to China from the locust plague. 

The Chinese Academy of Sciences recently interviewed relevant experts from the Institute of Zoology, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the College of Life Sciences of Hebei University, and the Institute of Biological Resources and Application of the Guangdong Academy of Sciences.

As China has a record of the harm African desert locusts caused in the past, it is necessary to pay close attention to the migration paths of the Indian locusts and whether there are new local insect sources involved. “If they reach Myanmar in the East, it is very likely that China and Thailand, Laos and Vietnam could be threatened.

The occurrence of locust disasters is very closely related to the survival of the pests, as well as local the climate and ecological environment. The migratory pests have a very strong reproductive capacity. The density of the locust population can become abnormally high. Hundreds of millions or even hundreds of billions of migrating hazards occur as the flight capabilities of locusts are extremely complex as are their feeding habits. It’s very difficult to have effective control measures.”

Experts commented. “It is worth noting that with the rapid development of (China’s) rural urbanization, some land waste and environmental delays have led to large areas of overgrown weeds. This is an ideal place for locusts to survive in.”

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