The Biblical Locust Plagues of 2020

Drawn to an emaciated avocado drooping from a drying mother tree, Esther Ndavu wonders aloud if it will ever mature into the fist-sized oval fruit that keeps city residents going. Like many others at her farm in Mathyakani village in central-eastern Kenya, this avocado tree has been attacked by desert locusts. With a wide sweep of her right hand, Ndavu counts about 10 avocado, mango and paw paw trees that are losing their boughs after the infestation.

The locust invasion that swept over farms in rural Kenya from December 2019 has left farmers like Ndavu not only counting crop losses, but struggling with emerging environmental and health problems. The swarms have been the worst seen in Kenya for 70 years, and experts are concerned that swarms later in the year will be even larger.

Desert locusts, or Schistocerca gregaria, have often been called the world’s most devastating pest, and for good reason. Swarms form when locusts’ numbers increase and they become crowded. This causes a switch from a relatively harmless solitary phase, to a gregarious, sociable phase. Read more…

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