Argentina is Battling Its Worst Locust Plague in Over 60 Years

January 28, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

Locust swarm
Photo credit: Wild Center/Flickr (CC BY-SA-NC 2.0)

No, it is not the fifth sign of the apocalypse… probably.

If you don’t like bugs, you probably should not head to Argentina anytime soon.  Currently, an area covering 700,000 hectares (1.7 million acres) in northern Argentina has become overrun with a plague of locusts — the worst the country has seen since 1954.

The cause of the infestation is currently under debate.  Some argue that climate change is at the root of the outbreak since Argentina experienced a warmer and wetter winter than normal, while others blame the government for not addressing the problem when the population of insects began to rise last year.

Farmers warned the government of the first signs of the infestation back in July 2015, but officials did not respond adequately, said Juan Pablo Karnatz, president of a farmers’ association in Santiago del Estero in an emailed statement to The Guardian.  

It was only after new authorities took charge of the inspection agency that the government began to battle to problem.  “Before the farmers were combating the plague on their own,” Karnatz said.

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Rural Confederations of Argentina — an organization representing around 100,000 farmers — recently reported sightings of locust swarms as large as 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) in length and 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) deep.  Could you imagine?

Locust infestations are nothing new to northern Argentina — farmers have been battling the insects for several centuries, and unfortunately, sometimes the farmers lose.  For example, 75 percent of the corn harvest in the state of Santa Fe was wiped out by locusts in 1875.

Although pest control measures have significantly improved over the years, unseasonal weather can have an effect on locust populations, often giving them the upper-hand.  

Is El Nino to blame?

The recent winter in the southern hemisphere was the third warmest on record in Argentina, and the wettest since 1932, which could explain the current plague.  

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) senior locust forecasting officer Keith Cressman told Business Insider, “Extreme weather events, including torrential downpours, have the potential to trigger a massive surge in locust numbers. Rain provides moist soil for the insects to lay their eggs, which in turn need to absorb water, while rains also allow vegetation to grow which locusts need for food and shelter.”

Time is of the essence, the farmers say.  If the fumigators do not find the young insects before they mature in about 10 days, they will form swarms of hungry locusts.  This plague could be disastrous for crops.  Each locust can eat as much as their own body weight every single day, and there are millions of them.

Take a look at the video below showing the extent of the infestation.  It get’s really interesting around 0:27.


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