Eastern Africa is facing a food crisis after a devastating plague of desert locusts, the worst seen in the region for several generations.
A new wave of insects is already spreading across half a dozen African nations and poised to consume new crops that were planted to replace last season’s losses. Political instability in the region is adding to the misery as violent insurgencies make it difficult to distribute both locally grown and internationally donated food.
As Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW) noted in a grim report on Wednesday, food shortages threaten to trigger even more violence as battle lines are drawn over livestock and grazing lands.
“There is nothing left to harvest. And there is nothing else that I know how to do. It’s just this farm. That’s where I get food, where I feed my family and friends, all people,” a Kenyan farmer told DW.
Some of the worst locust rampages are occurring in places like Somalia where the ground is soaked in blood from the atrocities of the al-Shabaab terrorist gang, and South Sudan, where a fragile peace coalition could collapse and rekindle a brutal civil war. Drought and political violence combined to unleash famine in South Sudan even before the locusts arrived.
The locusts are a formidable adversary, with swarms capable of traveling over a hundred miles a day and devouring as many crops as thousands of humans. Swarms larger than entire cities have been observed in Africa.
CNBC on Thursday noted the severe economic damage from the locust plague, such as the destruction of Ethiopia’s vital coffee and tea crops, which make up 30 percent of the country’s exports. The shortage of crops is applying inflationary pressure to economies that can ill afford it and making it harder for governments and corporations in eastern Africa to obtain credit. Some analysts believe the region could lose one or two percent of its GDP growth this year.
Kenya’s economic fate may be decided by exactly where those fast-moving locust swarms decide to go next. As analysts explained to CNBC, the locusts have mostly afflicted northern Kenya, far from where its major export crops are grown, resulting in food insecurity for the local population but relatively little financial damage. If the locusts move further south, the economic forecast will grow considerably more pessimistic, with almost a percentage point of GDP on the line.