2021 Photo Contest, World Press Photo of the Year Nominee

Fighting Locust Invasion in East Africa


Luis Tato

For The Washington Post

24 April, 2020

Henry Lenayasa, chief of the settlement of Archers Post, in Samburu County, Kenya, tries to scare away a massive swarm of locusts ravaging grazing area, on 24 April. Locust swarms devastated large areas of land, just as the coronavirus outbreak had begun to disrupt livelihoods.

In early 2020, Kenya experienced its worst infestation of desert locusts in 70 years. Swarms of locusts from the Arabian Peninsula had migrated into Ethiopia and Somalia in the summer of 2019. Continued successful breeding, together with heavy autumn rains and a rare late-season cyclone in December 2019, triggered another reproductive spasm. The locusts multiplied and invaded new areas in search of food, arriving in Kenya and spreading through other countries in eastern Africa. Desert locusts, Schistocerca gregaria, are potentially the most destructive of the locust pests, as swarms can fly rapidly across great distances, traveling up to 150 kilometers a day. A single swarm can contain between 40 and 80 million locusts per square kilometer. Each locust can eat its weight in plants each day: a swarm the size of Paris could eat the same amount of food in one day as half the population of France. Locusts produce two to five generations a year, depending on environmental conditions. In dry spells, they crowd together on remaining patches of land. Prolonged wet weather—producing moist soil for egg-laying, and abundant food— encourages breeding and producing large swarms that travel in search of food, devastating farmland. Even before this outbreak, nearly 20 million people faced high levels of food insecurity across the East African region, challenged by periodic droughts and floods. COVID-19 restrictions in the region slowed efforts to fight the infestation as supply chains of pesticides were disrupted.

About the photographer

Luis Tato

Luis Tato is a photojournalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. Currently, he combines his work covering mainly East Africa as a stringer for Agence France-Presse and other internatio...

Technical information

Shutter Speed
Canon EOS 5D Mark III

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