Desert Locust

The Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is the most destructive migratory pest in the world. In response to environmental stimuli, dense and highly mobile Desert Locust swarms can form. They are ravenous eaters who consume their own weight per day, targeting food crops and forage. Just a single square kilometer of swarm can contain up to 80 million adults, with the capacity to consume the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people. Large swarms pose a major threat to food security and rural livelihoods. FAO has long-standing expertise in monitoring Desert Locust populations and helping countries cope with this devastating crop pest.

Desert locust crisis in East Africa

Starting in early 2020, the global Desert Locust situation deteriorated as favourable climatic conditions allowed widespread breeding of the pest in East Africa, Southwest Asia and the area around the Red Sea.

The situation is particularly worrisome in Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya. Swarms of Desert Locusts there are extremely large, highly mobile, and are damaging food crops and forage. FAO has designated the Desert Locust upsurge in East Africa as one of its highest corporate priorities and is moving swiftly to support governments in responding.

What is the role of FAO in locust control?

FAO closely monitors the global Desert Locust situation 24/7 and provides forecasts, early warning and alerts on the timing, scale and location of invasions and breeding through its global Desert Locust Information Service (DLIS).

All locust-affected countries transmit locust data to FAO who in turn analyse this information in conjunction with weather and habitat data and satellite imagery in order to assess the current locust situation, provide forecasts up to six weeks in advance and issue warnings on an ad-hoc basis.

FAO prepares monthly bulletins and periodic updates summarizing the locust situation and forecasting migration and breeding on a country by country basis.

Furthermore, FAO undertakes field assessment missions, strengthens national capacity, coordinates survey and control operations as well as emergency assistance during locust upsurges and plagues.

Key Facts

Desert Locust live for 3 months; eggs hatch after two weeks, hoppers fledge and become adults after 6 weeks, and adults take at least one month to mature and be ready to lay eggs.
There can be an exponential increase in locust numbers with every new generation of breeding: a 20 time increase in their numbers after three months, 400 times after six months, and 8 000 times after nine months.
Desert Locust prefer semi-arid to arid areas, and lay eggs in moist sandy soil; rainfall is conducive to Desert Locust survival and reproduction.
Desert Locust fly during the day downwind for up to 150 km in a day.
The best time to spray Desert Locust is early in the morning and late in the afternoon when they are settled on the ground.
A 1 km2 swarm has the potential to eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people.

Where are Desert Locust found?

During quiet periods (known as recessions) Desert Locusts are usually restricted to the semi-arid and arid deserts of Africa, the Near East and South-West Asia that receive less than 200 mm of rain annually. This is an area of about 16 million square kilometres, consisting of about 30 countries.

Although the Desert Locust is considered to be the most important species of locust due to its ability to migrate over large distances and rapidly increase its numbers, there are several other important species of locusts throughout the world:

  • African Migratory Locust (Locusta migratoria migratorioides) - Africa;
  • Oriental Migratory Locust (Locusta migratoria manilensis) - South-East Asia;
  • Red Locust (Nomadacris septemfasciata) - Eastern Africa;
  • Brown Locust (Locustana pardalina) - Southern Africa;
  • Italian Locust (Calliptamus italicus), from western Europe to Central Asia;
  • Moroccan Locust (Dociostaurus maroccanus) - North-West Africa to Asia;
  • Bombay Locust (Nomadacris succincta) - South-West to South-East Asia;
  • Australian Plague Locust (Chortoicetes terminifera) - Australia;
  • Tree Locusts (Anacridium sp.) - Africa, Mediterranean, Near East.

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