Photo Credit: Damian Patkowski
By Dan Antunes
Amassing in almost biblical proportions, the mental image of millions of swarming locusts is sure to put the fear of God into anyone who understands the devastation such phenomena can bring. Within recent weeks this has become a reality for farmers whose lively hood has become threatened by the magnitude of destruction these insatiable pests have brought to East Africa.
Flowing in from the middle east having already wreaked havoc on places like Saudi Arabia, Yemen, even going as far as Pakistan, where it’s been at it’s worse for 20 years, this recent pandemic threatens the lush crop season Africa has been experiencing in the east.
Locust swarms normally occur when grasshopper groups become more abundant and start to release higher levels of serotonin. This causes them to go through certain physiological changes, becoming locusts and joining together in large swarms following the rapid growth of vegetation after drought seasons. The mass breeding that this creates since they are able to breakdown the equivalent of their own body weight a day, leads to swarms becoming so big they can heavily affect 100s of hectares of land in weeks.
With flood and rainfall levels being higher than normal throughout 2019, much of East Africa has experienced swathes of lush vegetation ending what have been fairly poor crop seasons in the past few years. Unfortunately, the rewards of this farming will only be enjoyed by the insects that are currently hitting the region with its worst infestation in 70 years. With food security being put at major risk, the current situation means that farmers won’t be able to make a living in the way they normally do but also means that food stocks across the country will be severely depleted leading to the possible threat of famine.
In wake of this pandemic, countries have called upon the UN to donate approximately £108m since January with the figure being likely to rise as the problem gets worse.
Combating the problem with the mass spraying of fields with pesticides, helicopters and other air bourne vehicles have been utilised in reaction to the problem. Despite being a solution to the problems these countries are facing, the use of pesticides is only effective in the short term, with long term damage such as water-polluting, increase in pest immunity and the wider impact its high chlorine and carbon percentages will have on biodiversity outweighing current solutions. The high amounts of pesticide could also be harmful to people due to the irritating effects it has on human skin. With control operations struggling to keep the spread of 100 hectares covered the influx in seasonal conditions that cause problems like this have become a common underlying problem across the world within recent years.
With Somalia claiming emergency situation in wake of the problem and the run of ‘hottest summers ever’ we’ve been experiencing, the climate situation seems more dire than ever.
Even September, the month that normally marks the beginning of autumn and winter blues, was hotter than usual – I can fondly reminisce on sitting in the back garden soaking up the sun with glee but also suspicion, as the month graced us with peculiarly sunny weather.
With snow hitting parts of the UK this past week and flood warnings on the rise as we head towards spring, the mixing of seasonal cues puts harvest seasons at risk as plants are likely to emerge early and be ruined by this flooding. Farming is also threatened by shorter winter seasons, a trend emerging globally, which will see vermin benefit from longer breeding seasons and the steady increase of global temperatures that have dramatically risen by at least 0.2 Celsius since 2014.
With polar bears gathering in large groups in rubbish tips, ice melts adding to sea levels and diseases like the coronavirus being able to fair better in warmer climates as pathogens adapt to temperatures higher than that of the human body temperature, the effects of climate are more prevalent than ever.