A larger wave of locusts threatens region's food security

The second wave of the voracious desert locusts, some 20 times the size of the first swarm, is winging in from breeding grounds in Somalia in search of fresh vegetation, springing up with seasonal rains.

This puts millions of already vulnerable people at risk.

And as they gather to try to combat the locusts, often in vain, they risk spreading the coronavirus — a topic that comes a distant second for many in rural areas. It is the locusts that “everyone is talking about,” said Yoweri Aboket, a farmer in Uganda. “Once they land in your garden they do total destruction. Some people will even tell you that the locusts are more destructive than the coronavirus.”

Some farmers in Abokat's village, near the Kenyan border, bang metal pans whistle or throw stones to try to drive the locusts away. But mostly they watch in frustration, largely barred by a coronavirus lockdown.

A failed garden of cassava, a local staple, means hunger. Such worries in the village are reflected across a large part of East Africa, including Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan. The swarms have also been sighted in Djibouti, Eritrea, Tanzania and Congo.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has called the locust outbreak, caused in part by climate change, "an unprecedented threat” to food security and livelihoods. “The current situation in East Africa remains extremely alarming as ... an increasing number of new swarms are forming in Kenya, southern Ethiopia and Somalia,” a new FAO assessment said.

The UN has raised its aid appeal from Sh7.6 billion to Sh15.3 billion. The locusts are “invading the Eastern Africa region in large swarms like never seen before," the Climate Prediction and Application Centrer said. The “young adults,” eat more than the adult ones, said Kenneth Mwangi, a satellite analyst at the centre.