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Giant Swarm Of Locusts From Middle East Now Threatening Kenya's Farms


Kenya is facing its worst locust invasion in seven decades. The locusts have found perfect conditions over the past two years as they have moved from the Middle East onto the African continent, where they are now threatening farmland. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.


EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: The swarms of locusts are massive. Some of them extend across miles of land. But finding them is not easy because at the moment, they are in one of Kenya's most remote regions. So we drive off-road up mountains.


PERALTA: We pass dry riverbeds, acacia trees and an occasional antelope. And then my interpreter notices flickers of yellow zooming past us. And the road ahead turns yellow.

I mean, we're literally driving on top of them. Aw, look at them right here. They're clumped up in, like - bunch of them. Whoa. They're just - oh, and not only that but, look; they're mating.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And they're mating here.

PERALTA: They are mating.

Right now the locusts are in what is known as an upsurge. Driven by unusually rainy weather, normally solitary brown desert grasshoppers have turned bright yellow. High on serotonin, they have gone on a sex and eating binge.


PERALTA: Maybe I can put my microphone close to them and you might be able to hear sounds they are making with their legs as they mate, which I know is pretty gross.


PERALTA: These swarms of locusts have been forming for a year and a half. They started in the Middle East, and three rare cyclones have provided the rain they have needed to multiply and become the biggest infestation here in Kenya in 70 years. It could be devastating.

STANLEY KIPKOECH: These things can ravage everything.

PERALTA: That is Stanley Kipkoech, who specializes in migratory pests for the Kenyan government.

KIPKOECH: Yes, because they are really - they eat basically every shrub, every tree. And they are in huge, huge numbers. We're talking about millions (ph).

PERALTA: Now the locusts are threatening Kenya's farms. And they've already eaten through some fields of khat, a leaf chewed as a stimulant.

KIPKOECH: And that is the worry, yeah. If now it goes to the highly populated areas, that will be the challenge, surely.

PERALTA: Back on the field, we stumble upon the homestead of a family of herders.


PERALTA: Some are playing drums at church. Others have taken their cows to find pasture. Susan Ngiru says one swarm flew right past their homes a few days ago.

SUSAN NGIRU: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah, they fear it because they were like clouds.

NGIRU: (Non-English language spoken).


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Yeah. So when they saw them, they think it was raining.

PERALTA: They had never seen anything like it. Everyone ran inside while the elders and morans, or the warriors, checked out the locusts. I ask her if part of this isn't intriguing. When you look closely, the locusts are even kind of beautiful.

NGIRU: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: They don't care about their beauty.

PERALTA: Right now, she says, their cows are having a tough time grazing because the government has been spraying pesticides from planes. There is no beauty in that, she says, so she just wants these pests gone.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Samburu County, Kenya.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.