Desert locust outbreak

In the Greater Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and parts of southwest Asia, Desert Locusts decimated crops and native vegetation from late 2019 into 2022. Many of the 23 countries impacted had not seen an outbreak of this magnitude in decades, for Kenya, it was the worst in 70 years.

Since January 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) used their fully funded appeal of USD 230 million to treat 2.3 million ha in the Horn of Africa and Yemen. Ground and aerial teams were mobilized for control missions and more than 1.4 million locations were surveyed. These efforts averted 4.5 million MT of crop losses and saved 900 million liters of milk production. Even so, the economic, environmental, and human livelihood impacts could be felt for generations to come.

What environmental conditions caused the current Desert Locust outbreak?

As their name suggests, Desert Locusts are adapted to arid regions. They can persist through long periods of dry weather but capitalize on desert rains that support population booms. Starting in 2018, a series of cyclones brought unexpected heavy rainfall to key locust breeding areas. Increased moisture across the Horn of Africa sprouted green vegetation that fueled explosive locust populations as explained in this recent National Geographic article.

What are the social and political factors that affect the management of Desert Locust swarms?

During recession years, Desert Locusts can be found at low densities throughout an enormous 16 million km2 area covering 30 countries, but during plague years the potentially affected area can expand to a 29 million km2 area spanning 60 countries! Much of this vast area is either uninhabited or filled with isolated communities, making the monitoring and early warning systems which are critical for preemptive locust control extremely challenging.

What are challenges to maintaining and expanding Desert Locust management capacity?

Many of the currently affected countries are seeing locust outbreaks for the first time in decades. For instance, Kenya hasn’t experienced an outbreak of this magnitude in 70 years. These unpredictable boom-and-bust cycles of Desert Locust outbreaks, which can play-out over periods of decades, make preserving institutional knowledge and maintaining the capacity to respond difficult, if not impossible, for an individual nation or region. Additionally, any societal or political disruption further jeopardizes the capacity to monitor and respond to locust threats. For example, the civil war in Yemen played a role in undermining locust control during the critical early stages of this outbreak. Conflicts in northern regions of Ethiopia hampered monitoring efforts in 2021, and the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted supply chains and response efforts in East Africa.

For more further information please see the following recent article by Dr. Michel Lecoq posted on our website: Preventative management of the Desert Locust and the ongoing invasion

Learn more

Recordings of the 1st Virtual Practitioners Conference on Desert Locust Management 2020, hosted by TheWaterChannel

FAO Desert Locust Animation: A Threat from the Desert

Global Landscape Forum session

Understanding the Interconnectedness Between the Ongoing Desert Locust Crisis 2019-2021+ and the Climate Crisis (November 6, 2021)

UNOCHA East Africa’s locust crisis in numbers

Coverage of the Desert Locust outbreak




Regional organizations involved in Desert Locust management