Jul 20, 2020 - Economy

Massive locust plague poised to cut multiple countries' GDP

A swarm of desert locusts in Sanaa, Yemen, in July. Photo: Mohammed Mohammed/Xinhua via Getty Images

Locusts in swarms the size of Manhattan have been ravaging crops through East Africa, the Middle East and South Asia and could be "a bigger threat in some of these countries than COVID-19," according to Gro Intelligence CEO Sara Menker.

What's happening: The impact of the locusts is starting to eat into the respective countries' GDP and have a devastating effect on local economies.

  • Gro Intelligence analysts tell Axios they are expecting "significant impact to agricultural production in India, along with Pakistan and East Africa."
  • India recently surpassed Brazil to become the biggest sugar producer in the world and about 40% of the planted area of sugarcane is in a main agricultural province currently under threat from locusts.
  • In June, Fitch Ratings warned that locusts could shake east Africa’s macroeconomic stability.

Yes, but: "Locust outbreaks in the significant cereal and protein exporters are rare, so significant disruptions in the international food supply chain are unlikely," Gro analysts note in an email.

  • "However, locusts may significantly impact countries which already face food insecurity, which can lead to localized supply shocks rippling through the international economy due to, for instance, currency crises or increased migration."

Why it's happening: The massive increase and spread of the locusts is linked to climate and climate patterns, Menker says.

Between the lines: Dino Martins, executive director of the Mpala Research Centre in Kenya, calls the locusts a warning from nature.

  • "As terrifying and as dramatic as they are, there is a deeper message, and the message is that we are changing the environment," he told the Harvard Gazette, noting local environmental degradation, overgrazing, deforestation and the expansion of deserts are creating ideal conditions for more locusts to breed.
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