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Locusts, COVID-19 Combination Pose Dire Threat to East Africa

A man attempts to fend-off a swarm of desert locusts at a ranch near the town of Nanyuki in Laikipia county, Kenya, Feb. 21, 2020.

Officials with the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) say a resurgence of locusts – which devastated crops in parts of Africa earlier this year – is beginning to hit rural parts of East Africa.

Early this year, one of the biggest locust outbreaks in decades hit central and east Africa. The FAO says heavy rains during the month of March is bringing a new wave of the destructive insects into the region, in some areas 20 times larger than the first one.

They say the locusts pose an “unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods,” particularly in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.

This time, however, farmers trying to fight off the locusts are also threatened by the COVID-19 virus sweeping through the region, as well being hampered by restrictions put in place by governments trying to limit the spread of the virus.

The FAO says restrictions on the movement of personnel and equipment have created challenges, but they say they are continuing to work with national governments, farmers and agricultural producers to contain the locusts.

Kenyan locust control official Julius Gera says that threat the locusts pose to the crops coupled with the coronavirus outbreak could be a catastrophe for the nation.

The FAO is seeking to raise $153 million, saying immediate action is needed before more rainfall fuels further growth in locust numbers. So far, the FAO has collected $111 million in cash or pledges.