By the Blouin News Science & Health staff

Fueled by drought, locusts return with a vengeance

by in Environment.

A locust, of the type rampaging across southern Russia, feeding on rural crops. Getty Images

A locust, of the type rampaging across southern Russia, feeds on crops. Getty Images

Southwestern Russia is being devastated by a plague of millions of locusts, the largest in over 30 years.  Officials say at least 10% of crops have already been destroyed, prompting them to declare a state of emergency in three of the affected regions. “In Kalmikya, Astrakhan, Volgograd, and Dagestan, there is already no food left for the locusts, so they have moved on to other sources of food. They have wingspans of nearly 12 centimeters, like small sparrows,” said Tatiana Drishcheva of the government-run Russia Agricultural Center.

The government’s pest-spraying response efforts are hardly making a dent, in part because high summer temperatures make the pesticides less effective. But the real story is that the locusts are moving too quickly for the authorities to contain them, and their rampage is far from over. Already over 800,000 hectares have been affected.

The waves of locusts began around July 20, according to Stavropol’s regional agricultural ministry. Vasilii Yegorov, a deputy agricultural minister, said that locusts appear in the region every year but normally they are able to exterminate them before they hatch. This year though, he said, locusts migrated from neighboring Russian regions, meaning authorities were unable to halt them easily, thus putting one of Russia’s major agricultural areas in danger.

Unusually dry weather this year is suspected as being behind this biblical-level scourge. Russian television has linked the plague to climate change, citing higher temperatures and recent flooding as connecting factors.

Other parts of the world have also been struck by locusts in the last year or so, including Madagascar and Australia. By late July, North China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region (which has been suffering from a severe drought since June) had nearly 2 million hectares of cropland hit by an ongoing locust infestation. In some areas there are a staggering 123 locusts per square meter.

Just like Russia, China has been spraying pesticides against this perennial threat. But it has also unleashed a decidedly low-tech solution that just might prove to be the most effective of all — putting some 50,000 chickens into the grassland regions of Inner Mongolia this year to eat the locusts. That approach can most definitely be replicated elsewhere.