Millions of locusts devastate crops in East Africa in the worst outbreak in decades - Oxfam prepares to respond

Published: 29th January 2020

Oxfam is preparing for a potential response as swarms of locusts sweep across Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia and are likely to grow 500 times bigger by June to neighboring Uganda and South Sudan. The plagues are hitting the East African region where food insecurity has already reached record levels following unprecedented droughts and in some areas flash floods and millions more are at risk to go hungry unless these swarms are immediately controlled, warned Oxfam today.

Lydia Zigomo, the Regional Director of Oxfam in Horn, East and Central Africa (HECA) said: “Currently, 25.5 million people in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda are already suffering from hunger and severe malnutrition. These infestations of hundreds of millions of locusts need to be quickly contained before the next main cropping season of March to July.”

The scale of devastation is unsurmountable. To put it in perspective, a large desert locust plague can contain up to 150 million individuals per square kilometer. One million locusts weighing approximately two tonnes could eat as much food in one day as about 20 elephants, 50 camels or 5000 people. Collectively, the insects can destroy at least 200 tonnes of vegetation per day.

Oxfam and partners are on the ground monitoring the humanitarian situation. "We have plans to provide cash support to people most-in-need, particularly small farmers and pastoralists, so they are able to buy food and fodder for their livestock,”

Lydia Zigomo, Oxfam Regional Director in Horn East and Central Africa

“Ethiopia has already been suffering from continuous droughts since 2015 and more recently hit by floods which destroyed people's harvest. This locust infestation, which was partly fueled by recent cyclone hitting the country last December, has now eaten hundreds of square kilometers of vegetation in the Amhara and Tigray regions,” Zigomo added.

In Kenya, the locust swarms have increased spread over the past month across 13 counties including Isiolo, Samburu, Wajir, Garissa, Tana River, Marsabit, Laikipia, Mandera, Kitui, Baringo, Meru, Embu, and Turkanaand have destroyed food crops and pasture for livestock. These same counties have already experienced devastating droughts and floods in recent years pushing over 3 million people to extreme levels of hunger.  These swarms will likely devastate the upcoming planting season. 

 In Somalia, tens of thousands of hectares of land have been affected in Somaliland, Puntland and Galmudug (Mudug), as mature swarms hit the Garbahare area near the Kenyan border. Locusts are also reported to be traveling south to Somalia’s Gedo region leaving a trail of destroyed farms. Operations are underway in the northeast (Puntland) to control the swarms that continue to move towards the central and southern areas, but the lack of security in some of these parts is hampering efforts to survey and control the infestations.

Oxfam and partners are on the ground monitoring the situation. "We are planning to respond with cash support to people most-in-need, particularly small farmers and pastoralists, so they are able to buy food and fodder for their livestock,” said Zigomo.

The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) estimates that Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia need $70m to tackle the plague. Oxfam is calling upon donors to immediately help us respond to this crisis, in order to avoid more people falling hungry and using up whatever assets they have to buy food.

Notes to editors

For more information about Oxfam Horn East and Central Africa regional activities and current updates follow us on
Twitter: @OxfamEAfrica
Facebook: @oxfamineastafrica
Website: I

Contact information


Spokespersons are available. To arrange for interviews please contact:

For regioal media inquiries please contact:
Martin Namasaka
Regional Media and Communications Advisor
Mobile:  +254731953944

Oxfam in Ethiopia
Tigist Gebru
Media and Communications Coordinator | Oxfam in Ethiopia
Mobile: +251-909 79 10 88


Oxfam in Kenya
CAROLINE MOCHOGE | Communications | Kenya Program
Oxfam in Kenya | Nairobi | +254 (0) 708 712888

Oxfam in Somalia
Abdiaziz Adani, Senior Advocacy & Communications Officer

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.