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Ethiopia: dealing with a desert locust invasion

EU-funded cash grants have helped to alleviate high levels of acute food insecurity in different zones in Ethiopia. © IOM, 2021.

Galmo Kiyo Waariyo is a farmer living in Lafto village, Dubuluk woreda of Borena zone, in Ethiopia’s Oromia region. The 58-year-old mother is the sole breadwinner for her family of 8 children - 3 girls and 5 boys, with 3 of the children below the age of 5 – and a chronically ill family member. She witnessed the arrival of the desert locusts in her village. Through cash grants, EU humanitarian aid has helped Galmo and her family cope with the infestation.

Story by Megos Desalegne and Eric Mazango, IOM.

“When the desert locusts suddenly invaded, we were horrified,” she explains. “The rustling swarms were so enormous that the sky gradually darkened, and they were soon crawling everywhere.”

The previous farming season had looked promising until desert locusts, which have been ravaging the greater part of East Africa since late 2019, descended on Lafto village. The locust infestation arrived almost unexpectedly in February 2020, attacking and extensively damaging large swathes of crop and pasture.  

For generations, families in Galmo’s village depended on seasonal rainfall for mixed farming and growing maize on small family plots, and keeping livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, and chicken.

A swarm of foraging desert locusts perched on a tree. © IOM Ethiopia

But this all changed when the locusts descended.

“We tried many techniques to keep the locusts away,” Galmo continues. “We made noises by shouting at the top of our voices and by banging our utensils. We started fires to create thick smoke around the planted areas.” All of this in a desperate and vain attempt to drive away from the locusts.

“They devoured all our crops, leaving almost nothing in the fields,” she says. “I lost everything. Only bare, parched soil remained of what was once a thriving and promising crop. Out of the blue, we were facing a failed season with no food to sustain us or pastureland for our livestock.”

Galmo says her crops were damaged in just a matter of days.

In February 2020, government authorities began control operations in the zone.

However, despite their swift intervention, the sheer scale of crop destruction left communities such as those living in Lafto facing critical food shortages.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), desert locusts are the most destructive migratory pests in the world. They feed on nearly all plants in cropped areas, rangelands and forests.

They fly rapidly across great distances. A single small swarm covering one square kilometre can eat in a single day the same amount of food as 35,000 people. For Ethiopia, the invasion was the worst in 25 years.

Addressing food shortages

Previous drought and the coronavirus pandemic had already diminished incomes and farmers were resorting to selling their livestock to raise money to buy food and even cutting back on meals.

As food stocks deteriorated, most of the affected communities were surviving on whatever provisions could be bought at a market, exhausting their limited savings.

Now, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), with the EU humanitarian support of €2 million, is reaching out to selected households in affected areas such as in Dubuluk with multi-purpose cash grants.


A beneficiary from Suro Berguda Woreda, West Guji Zone receives her cash grant at a distribution point, November 2020 © IOM Ethiopia.

“The European Union has supported efforts to combat the desert locust infestation, not only in Ethiopia but in the greater Horn of Africa as well. The locusts have in many places worsened already dire food shortages,” explains Yassine Gaba, Head of the EU’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations office in Ethiopia.

In Ethiopia specifically, working together with our humanitarian partners including IOM, the EU contributed a total of €9.5 million in 2020 to address food shortages and provide livelihood support to pastoralists and farmers affected by the desert locust outbreak,” says Yassine.

Galmo with her family and some of the goats she bought to restock her herd © IOM Ethiopia.

In October 2020, IOM, working with the government and the country’s Cash Working Group, started extending cash grants to the most affected households.

The primary intention has been to address the immediate food needs of the affected, based on the value of the food basket set by government, whilst also supporting water, sanitation and hygiene, education and shelter needs.

Between October and November 2020, Galmo and other families in her village received cash support amounting to 6,000 ETB ($150), per family over 4 months, enabling them to survive the adverse effects of the desert locust infestation.

Through this support, Galmo was able to meet basic food needs and purchase crop seeds and fodder, saving her from having to sell her assets for money.

“I am so happy with the cash assistance as it has helped me not only ensure food supply for my family but also restock the goats I had sold. I have spent some of the cash I received to buy improved seeds and replanted again hoping for a good harvest this time,” says Galmo

By the end of this project, approximately 45,000 individuals whose lives had been affected by the locusts, had benefited from the assistance.

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