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Gigantic plague of locusts threatens deadly famine across sub-Saharan Africa

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A massive plague of locusts destroyed over a thousand acres of farmland in the north-east of Namibia, according to its agriculture minister.

Each square kilometre of a swarm can contain between 40 and 80 million adult locusts.

A swarm of 40 million locusts eats the same amount of food in one day as about 35,000 people.

At least 19 areas in the fertile Zambezi region, which borders Zambia, Zimbabwe Angola and Botswana, have been hit by a red locust outbreak since August 12, agriculture minister Calle Schlettwein said in a statement on September 19.

In total, 4,002 square kilometres (just over 1,500 square miles) have been invaded and 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of livestock grazing land destroyed, he said.

The country needs around 30 million Nambian dollars (£1,400,000) for additional resources to contain the spread and enable aerial spraying, the minister added.

Some neighbouring countries, also affected, are already spraying from the air, which Schlettwein said was driving the locusts to countries, such as Namibia, that have yet to do so.

The outbreak follows a similar one in February. The large, red-winged grasshopper species, which is common to sub-Saharan Africa is benefitting from a period of extreme weather.

It breeds prolifically in conditions of drought followed by rain and rapid vegetation growth. Sophia Kasheeta, deputy executive director of the agriculture ministry, told Reuters the money needed could be sourced from the private sector, government "or anyone who can come on board".

So far the Food and Agriculture Organisation is among international bodies providing technical help and materials.

"There are several challenges being faced by the team on the ground, which include lack of camping equipment, vehicles, and the vastness of the area," the minister said.

Scientists warn that these outbreaks are only going to become more common in the future, as climate change continues to create ideal conditions for locusts to breed.

Abubakr Salih Babiker, a climate scientist at Nariobi’s climate and prediction centre, told The Guardian : “The risk for us is that this is the beginning of a new growing season, from Somalia and Uganda, and if the desert locusts are not controlled it can be a huge crisis in food security of the whole region.”

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