New plagues of locusts threaten South American crops

. Dec 01, 2020
locusts argentina Locust swarms in Argentina. Photo: Government of Cordoba

In May, farmers in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil went on red alert over reports of locusts roving across the southeastern portion of the continent, demolishing crops as they go. However, despite traveling long distances over months until dissipating, the swarms did not reach Brazil, causing losses only in Paraguay and Argentina. But the danger has reared its head once more.

On Friday, Argentina’s Food Safety and Quality Service (Senasa) sounded the alarm when it found another swarm of locusts close to the towns of Campo Viera and Itacaruaré, in the northeastern

Argentinian province of Misiones, bordering the Brazilian towns of Rincão Vermelho and Porto Xavier on the banks of the Uruguay River.</p> <p>First indications show that the locust species of this new swarm is different to that seen in August. This is crucial, as the <em>Chromacris speciosa</em> locust — the reason for these renewed alerts — is not accustomed to making long flights, suggesting the problem will be largely contained.</p> <p>Experts from <a href="">Brazil and Argentina</a> are monitoring the locust clouds and have asked <a href="">farmers</a> to alert the authorities of any changes they observe. So far, the insects have been seen on three farms in Campo Viera and one in Itacaruaré, plaguing local yerba mate crops.</p> <h2><strong>Rio Grande do Sul on alert</strong></h2> <p>In an official statement, Luis Antonio Covatti Filho, the agriculture secretary of&nbsp; Brazil&#8217;s southernmost state Rio Grande do Sul, said that the locust swarm is currently around 50 kilometers from the Brazilian border. However, he pointed out that the insects in question are not a typically migratory species.</p> <p>“It is different from the first threat because [these locusts] don&#8217;t move much. There&#8217;s not much of a chance to reach here, but we are monitoring it and preparing to act quickly.”</p> <p>He stressed that the state of phytosanitary emergency decreed in June by the federal government, by way of the Agriculture Ministry, is still in effect for productive areas of Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina.</p> <p>The emergency decree allows states to hire personnel for a determined period of time to provide agricultural defense services and is valid for a year.</p> <iframe src="" width="100%" height="232" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2><strong>Danger averted for now</strong></h2> <p>The concern about the <a href="">advance of locust swarms in the southern portion of South America</a> has gone on for around seven months. On May 22, a Senasa bulletin warned about the dangers of a cloud of insects coming from Paraguay.</p> <p>The previous day, Argentinian teams had visited the town of Fortín Leyes, on the border with Paraguay, to confirm the presence of the locust swarms.</p> <p>By August, a total of nine insect swarms were moving around the country, particularly in the north of Argentina, close to Paraguay. That month, Argentinian technicians were able to eliminate one swarm that posed increased risk to Brazil.</p> <p>Those locusts were of the <em>Schistocerca cancelatta </em>species, which are more inclined to migrate. With a lifespan of around two months, they do not carry any particular threat of transmitting diseases. However, when they become gregarious and form swarms, they can destroy entire plantations.</p> <p>When they are young, the <em>Schistocerca cancelatta</em> do not have wings and move with a series of short jumps. It is at this point that their populations may be successfully controlled. Once becoming adults, the locusts can travel roughly 150 kilometers a day, depending on wind speeds. They feed on approximately 400 different vegetable species.</p> <h2><strong>The Plagues of Egypt</strong></h2> <p>Concern about the effects of swarming locusts led the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations to closely monitor sightings of these insects in 1997. Since, some notable plagues have been recorded around the world.</p> <p>In 2004, a plague of locusts reached the Egyptian capital of Cairo, in an event straight out of the <a href="">Book of Exodus</a>. Clouds of insects were so thick, blocking the view of the pyramids of Giza.</p> <p>According to news agency Reuters, the locusts that plagued Egypt had caused destruction in north African countries Mauritania, Mali, and Niger. The Mediterranean island of Cyprus, to the north of Egypt, was also affected by the swarms.</p> <p>More recently, between the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, locust clouds raised alerts in the east of Africa, causing the worst infestations in the last 70 years. The situation was most severe in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, where the insects devastated entire plantations of corn and beans.</p> <p>The threat in the region is still high, according to the FAO, principally in the northwest of Kenya where a new swarm is forming.</p> <p>The northern portion of Africa is home to the highest concentration of locust swarms, according to FAO monitoring. But other continents — as is seen on the Brazil-Argentina border — have been affected by insect plagues.</p> <p>Swarms of locusts took over the Mexican tourist destination Cancún in September 2006, arriving in the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma — the most intense tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Atlantic basin.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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