Millions of locusts invade farms in Saudi Arabia and Yemen

Insects seen in Riyadh region, Qassim, Hail and Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province

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Large swarms of locusts have been seen on farms and in other rural areas of Saudi Arabia and Yemen over the past few days, after countries in the Horn of Africa suffered the largest outbreak in decades.

Kuwait's Al Rai newspaper reported on Monday that the swarms of locusts invaded agricultural areas in four Saudi regions: Riyadh, Qassim, Hail and the Eastern Province.

Desert locusts pose a significant threat to food security and livelihoods by feeding on plants and crops on farms.

The newspaper said that Kuwait is also under threat from locusts coming from Iran.

The country’s General Authority for Agriculture and Fisheries is taking measures to protect the farmland, which contributes to the largest share of the country's plant wealth and food security.

An official said the Kuwaiti authorities had been engaging with Saudi Arabia to co-ordinate a response to the locusts.

The source said wind movement heavily influenced where the locusts end up and that “all necessary measures” had been taken to prevent a large-scale swarm in Kuwait.

Executive secretary of the Desert Locust Control Authority, Mamoun Al Alawi, said that billions of locusts had arrived in Yemen and the eastern coast of Iran and Pakistan.

The news comes as swarms containing billions of locusts destroy crops in Kenya, which has not had such an outbreak in 70 years. Ethiopia, Somalia and Uganda have also been affected and last had comparable swarms a quarter of a century ago.

Last week, Uganda scrambled to respond to the locust outbreak while the UN said that “we simply cannot afford another major shock” to an already-vulnerable region.

After an emergency government meeting in Uganda on February 10, military forces were sent to help with ground-based pesticide spraying, while two planes for aerial spraying will arrive as soon as possible.

Aerial and ground spraying is considered the only effective form of control.

The insects have exploited favourable wet conditions after unusually heavy rains, and experts say climate change is expected to bring more of the same.

Some of the swarms have been huge. One in Kenya measured 40 kilometres by 60km.

Up to 150 million locusts can gather in a square kilometre, but even a small swarm can devour enough food for an estimated 35,000 people daily.

The desert locust begins its breeding cycle in eastern Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia during the rainy season in July and August.

It later migrates to the Red Sea coast and the Middle East.