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Locusts, coronavirus and climate change: Ethiopia’s 2020 crisis

Published on 27 October 2020

Written by Leanne Clelland

In Ethiopia, people living in poverty are on the frontline of the climate crisis. Locusts are swarming, encouraged by the long droughts and heavy rains.  The insects – not seen on this scale in Ethiopia for two decades – have been causing problems in the country since last summer.

 Desert locusts eat their own body weight daily. A small swarm eats the same amount of food as 35,000 people in just one day. Almost 4 million hectares of crops – equivalent to half the size of Scotland – have been eaten by the locust swarms across Ethiopia this year.

Women like Borgodo Tsobe, a widow and mother of five, witnessed plagues of locusts larger than ever before. ‘The locusts suddenly came out of nowhere and ate every green plant in their path. They left us nothing useful,’ she said. Borgodo’s crops were so quickly destroyed that she didn’t know if anything would grow again.   

Ethiopian farmer

Borgodo Tsobe

Bodo Ayiso is a young farmer in South Omo.

He has become familiar with the way extreme weather affects his crops. But the locusts were a new and unwelcome challenge.

‘I know what drought or flooding can do. But I have never seen such a devastating plague before. We were ready to harvest our farm when locust swarms descended in our village. They destroyed everything within few days and only left dust behind. The swarms devastated rangelands and the vegetation. Even the bees left.’

Bodo and his pastoral community found it difficult to find fresh grass for their animals because it was so hot.  

But, says Bodo, ‘even when we feared the worst, Christian Aid supported our village.

Christian Aid has provided locust prevention training to 130 local volunteers, including Bodo, in South Omo.

The volunteers learned how to become familiar with the locust life cycle and how to use pesticides and sprayers effectively and safely. Together, they have sprayed pesticide over 2,500 hectares of crop and grazing lands in order to control the locust infestation and save their new crops.

Bodo feels confident about the future. ‘We will not be panicked as previous time. We know what to do if the locusts return.’

Thanks to the Scottish Government’s Humanitarian Emergency Fund, we were able to act quickly to protect any existing crops and plant new seeds for the next harvest. We distributed over 41 tonnes of maize seed to 3,416 families and pastoral farmers. But the extreme weather means that the threat of more locusts remains high.


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Scottish Government Humanitarian Emergency Fund

Our work in Ethiopia is supported by the Scottish Government Humanitarian Emergency Fund.

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