Climate Change Negatively Affects Agriculture in Horn of Africa

A warm January was a pleasant surprise for many Americans this year. Maybe money was wasted on a new winter coat, but the gains far outweighed the losses. Fifty and sixty degree weather meant fewer colds, less time spent shaving ice off our windshields, and more time outside. For many farmers, however, warmer winter weather foreshadowed future crop diseases and losses. And in the Horn of Africa, where it’s currently summertime, warmer weather negatively affected agriculture, resulting in damaging losses.

And even more losses are yet to come. 

Locust Swarms in Africa

In Late January, swarms of locusts engulfed crop fields in the Horn of Africa. Kenya was hit the hardest, citing the infestation as the worst in 70 years. For Somalia and Ethiopia, it’s the worst infestation in 25 years. At least 110,000 hectares of land were affected by locusts. 

For Lawrence Mwagire, a farmer in central Kenya, the losses were devastating. Lawrence had anticipated a bountiful harvest because November rains had ended a dry spell in Kenya, making for a good planting season. But the locusts consumed his entire crop of cowpeas, and his maize developed rust due to the humid weather conditions. So what exactly prompted this apocalyptic invasion?   

May and October of 2018 saw cyclones in the Southern Arabian Peninsula caused by heavy rainfall and flooding. These wet conditions provided favorable breeding grounds for locusts, who migrated to the Horn of Africa. In 2019, Eastern Africa experienced similar weather conditions caused by the Indian Ocean dipole, a phenomenon in which the western part of the Indian Ocean is warmer than the eastern part. Warm and wet conditions are favorable for locusts that are hatching from eggs, and the winds help to spread them over the land. 

So how does climate change play a role in this? 

How has Climate Change Affected Africa?

Over the last 100 years, the Indian Ocean has warmed rapidly due to anthropogenic emissions. This has caused more cyclones to form in Eastern Africa, creating wetter and hotter conditions. In fact, October – December 2019 was the third wettest season in Eastern Africa in the last 30 years. Not only does this create favorable breeding grounds for locusts, but it also prompts the growth of green vegetation, providing a food source for the locusts. 

The rains are really a double-edged sword. While they may have ended the drought in Eastern Africa, they have also spurred the growth of disease and pests. 

And it will only get worse. 

The ICPAC’s Fifty-Fourth Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum has predicted the Horn of Africa will see a wetter and hotter March – May season.  According to Cyril Ferrand, FAO resilience team leader for Eastern Africa, the problem could become 20 times worse than it already is. Because there will be more rainfall, farmers will not be able to spray insecticides. In merely four months, the locust swarms could grow 400 times bigger. 

Desert locusts have already laid eggs in Marsabit, Samburu, and Isiolo. But because the locust mapping technology in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Sudan is poor, plant protection officers will need to work diligently to stop the spread of locusts. Extermination will be easier if the locusts are uncovered before they develop wings, so time is of the essence. Farmers will begin planting cereal crops in March and April, so to keep locusts from proliferating and decimating crops, the FAO will need to work as quickly as possible. 

But the locusts are already spreading. 

Locusts Migrating to Central Africa

While the FAO is working to stop the spread of locusts in Eastern Africa, it seems they may already be too late. 

Just last week, the Congo reported mature locusts on the western shore of Lake Albert. The country hasn’t seen locusts since 1944. Food security is a major concern for many countries in Eastern and Central Africa. In Namibia and Tanzania, where drier weather has already threatened food security, the locusts have added pressure. Both Namibia and Tanzania recently made the FAO’s list of countries in need of external food assistance. According to estimates, at least 20 million people have been affected by the locusts and now face starvation and hunger. 

Forty percent of Ethiopia’s grain has been consumed by locusts. But the locusts are not only consuming our food source; they’re also consuming cash crops and animal fodder. So not only is food security an issue, but so is an overall economic crash. 

How will Climate Change Continue to Affect Africa?

With climate denial fueling our greenhouse gas emissions, Africa’s plight will only worsen. So far, Africa has been drastically affected by climate change. Severe flooding and drought have wreaked havoc on agricultural lands. In 2000, a flood in Mozambique killed 800 citizens and caused one million people to go hungry. Nutrient pollution in the river Niger has negatively impacted Mali’s water supply and transportation services. Eighty-two percent of of Mount Kilimanjaro’s glaciers have melted since 1912 as a result of anthropogenic warming. These glaciers provide fresh water via ice-melt to people below in times of drought, and without them, there is less water supply.

To make matters worse, because natural resources have dwindled in various countries in Africa, national security issues have soared. According to the UN, access to water might become the biggest cause of conflict and war in Africa.   

As more people come to terms with growing effects of climate change on our planet, the better our countries will be. To save not only Africa’s agricultural industry, but also our own, we must implement change now. Luckily, in the U.S., we are already switching to regenerative agriculture to repair the earth. Learn more about this here.


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