A Biblical Plague Threatens Food Supplies on Multiple Continents

For some people, the phrase “a plague of locusts” evokes only the memory of the Old Testament account of the swarms of locusts that devastated Egypt.  For many people around the world, that phrase today is now evoking genuine and immediate fear.

Earlier this year, locust swarms swept across at least ten countries in East Africa, devouring hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland.  At that time, it was projected that locust swarms could increase by 500 times and move into still more African nations.

Recent news reports indicate that the reach of locust swarms has extended well beyond east Africa.  In late May, CBS News reported that locust swarms were now attacking parts of eight western states in India.  Although such swarms typically move from Pakistan between July and October and remain concentrated in Rajasthan, “weather conditions have helped the swarms spread into neighboring states.”  Those swarms pose a tremendous threat to food supplies in the region, as a swarm of 40 million locusts can consume enough food for 35,000 people.

Pakistan too has been enduring vast devastation by locust swarms.  The Guardian reported in late May that Pakistan is suffering “the worst plague of locusts in recent history, which has caused billions of dollars in damage and led to fears of long-term food shortages.”  That plague is likely to have catastrophic effects on a country “where agriculture accounts for 20% of GDP and 65% of the population live and work in agricultural areas.”

In addition, just last week Argentina and Brazil reportedly “are monitoring the movement of a 15-square-kilometer locust swarm in Argentina’s northeast.”  So far, according to various authorities and specialists, the swarm “had not caused significant damage to crops” in either country, perhaps because predicted lower temperatures would limit the locusts’ movement.  The potential risk to crops in the region is nonetheless significant.  Argentina and Brazil “are among the world’s largest soy and corn exporters,” and growers in one Brazilian state “feared the locusts would enter the[ir] state where corn is still being harvested and wheat being grown.”  In addition, the swarms, which reportedly entered Argentina from Paraguay, are also heading toward Uruguay.

Note:  These reports indicate that locust-driven risks to regional food and feed insecurity, ranging from moderate to overwhelming, are now prevalent in multiple regions of the world.  Strategic-risk and food security-risk analysts should closely monitor further developments with these locust swarms through the balance of the summer.

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