Although good rainfall is associated with the natural breakout of brown locusts in the semi-karoo region, recent above-normal rainfall has exacerbated this common pest.
Putting crops at risk as the country braces for more summer rainfall in the coming weeks and months, AgriSA risk and disaster unit manager Andrea Campher said locusts only die out naturally when the first frosts set in around May.
Various videos have emerged on social media of locust swarms spanning kilometres spattering on the windscreens of drivers.
Campher confirmed that locust outbreaks are currently occurring in parts of the Northern Cape, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and more recently, the Free State province.
The largest swarms are currently in the south-eastern parts of the Northern Cape, and at the border of the Eastern Cape and Free State provinces.
Camper said the swarms of locusts have been flying from the Northern Cape towards the Eastern Cape, reaching areas as far as Molteno.
Colesberg, Middelburg, Graaf Reinet and Vensterstad seem to be bearing the brunt of the swarms.
On route to Jozi, just before Colesberg. Locusts galore pic.twitter.com/lfgtcPGRB0
— Safe ‘n Secure Jozi (@JoziSafe) January 5, 2022
Motorists are ⚠️ to be mindful of the hazards posed by locust swarms currently wreaking havoc across the country. A listener shared this video taken on Wednesday morning where they were “hit” by 2 swarms on N10, Middleburg/Noupoort @Agri_EC @landbou @DALRRDgov_ZA @AlgoaFM pic.twitter.com/A8qmtUp5LJ
— AlgoaFMNews (@AlgoaFMNews) January 5, 2022
Camper added that at the beginning of this week, swarms were starting to be reported in Phillipolis in the Free State.
Growing locust swarms
Although it has been reported that swarms are under control, Campher said small swarms are amalgamating to form larger ones, as they embark on their migratory quest.
Locusts lay their eggs after the rainy season starts. The amount of rain received during summer months determines how much destruction can be anticipated for harvest the following year, Agricultural Research Council research team manager Roger Price told The Citizen.
Climate change is complicating experts’ ability to predict the breeding cycle of locusts, with El Nino (drought) and La Nina (floods) events becoming increasingly unpredictable. Outbreaks are typically linked to prolonged droughts, and then widespread rainfall.
— Karooboytjie (@karooboytjie) January 5, 2022
Disturbingly, in a day, a large swarm of locusts can eat food meant to feed 35 000 people.
One locust can eat its own weight in food, and a large swarm typically contains around 40 million locusts.
Farmers spraying non-stop
Campher said the country depends on the Department of Agriculture to control locust outbreaks.
If swarms are not properly controlled this year, hatchlings next year will increase outbreaks, she warned.
“We are still in the middle of the summer season, with more rains expected in the coming weeks to months, therefore the outbreaks might still increase rapidly.”
Farmers are spraying “day and night” to try and control locust swarms in different terrains, in an effort to make sure they do not reach irrigated or crop areas.
If this happens, Campher said this could pose a risk to crops.
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