Though locusts were a biblical plague, they have been swarming around the world from time immemorial. The desert locust situation is serious in many places across the globe, including in Yemen and at the Indian-Pakistan border, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
A Disaster of Biblical Proportions
A swarm of 50 million locusts, covers one square kilometer; this swarm can eat the equivalent of 100 tons per day. This devastation is likely to cause a disaster not only in Yemen but also in other countries, like Saudi Arabia.
Small Custers of Locusts Matter, Too
In spite of the fact that small clusters of locusts have been found in Ethiopia and Somalia, there was a major swarm in Argentina in 2017 and sadly the country experiences swarms every year.
A threat to food security since biblical times, locusts are voracious eaters. Not surprisingly, they are also difficult and expensive to control. According to a research paper published in 2005, it cost $450 million to stop the desert locust plague (2003 to 2005) in Africa that caused $2.5 billion USD in crop USD damage.
The Global Locust Initiative
To respond to this threat, scientists at Arizona State University created the Global Locust Initiative. Its purpose is to network partners and ideas and to preventatively devise solutions for the global locust problem.
The Largest Swarm ever recorded
The largest swarm in the history of the planet was recorded in 1870s over the Unite States Plains states. The size of the State of California, there were swarms flying overhead for four days. Whenever they landed, they ate everything. It was devastating.
Farmers are thought to play a role in attracting them
At that time, farmers kept expecting another swarm that never came. Within a few decades, the source of the swarm, the Rocky Mountain locust, was declared extinct. Scientists believe that this disappearance had something to do with changes in farming practices. Things like bringing in many cows or tilling areas that had not been tilled before are being investigated.
Altering Farming Practices may be the Key
This Global Locust Initiative is looking at the connection between people and locusts. There is no single answer to controlling the swarming locusts. For many practical and health-related reasons it does not make sense to try to spray them into submission with pesticides. It will take a multifaceted approach. It appears that the farmers who grow their millet sustainably, maintaining healthy soil nutrients, produce a crop that is relatively low in carbohydrates, a crop that the locusts tend not to like.
Only the First Possible Solution
Though convincing farmers to alter their farming practices may be a viable way to combat locusts, that may be easier said than done. I suspect that the ASU research lab and others may come up with additional solutions soon; clearly, that is their intention. For farmers in Argentina, these solutions cannot come soon enough.
For more information, visit ASU's Global Locust Initiative..
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