A man tries to catch locusts on a rooftop as they swarm over the Huthi rebel-held Yemeni capital Sana’a, July 28, 2019.Ethiopian agriculture officials are taking steps to control a major locust infestation that could threaten some of staple crops.

Ethiopian agriculture officials say they are taking steps to control a major locust infestation that could threaten some of the country’s staple crops.

Swarms of the schistocerca gregaria – better known as the desert locust – arrived in Ethiopia in June from Yemen and Somaliland, said Zebidos Salato, Ethiopia’s plant protection chief.

Out of 82,000 hectares surveyed last week, the desert locust has been found on 32,000, mostly in the Oromia, Amhara and Afar regions, Salato told VOA’s Horn of Africa service.

He said there is also a second round of swarms approaching from Yemen. “They have massed on the Somaliland plateau and are expected to move to South Eastern Ethiopia,” said Salato.

The desert locust is a voracious pest that has invaded Ethiopia before and usually attacks fields of khat, coffee, teff and millet.

Currently, Salato said, “the desert locusts are on grasses, shrubs and on the standing crops, attacking millet in the eastern part of the country.”  Officials have to estimate the size of the potential crop loss but are expected to release figures in the next three weeks.

Farmers and local officials are working with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization to combat the pests. Salato says crops have been sprayed from the air and farmers are using traditional methods such as dispersing the swarms with smoke and picking the pests off crops by hand.

FAO estimates a desert locust can consume roughly its own weight in fresh food per day, about two grams’ worth.

It categorizes the desert locust as a dangerous migratory pest capable of flying up to 150 kilometers a day, assisted by wind.  Solitary desert locust adults fly at night and swarms fly during the day.

Ethiopia experienced a similar invasion by the desert locust in 2003 and 2004, Salato says, “but it was not as big as this.”

Fatouma Seid, the FAO representative in Ethiopia, said last week, “We need to act fast and mobilize the required resources urgently to scale up control and preventative measures.”

USAID disaster experts are actively monitoring the desert locust situation in Ethiopia, its spokesperson told VOA.