A plague of locusts greater than any Argentina has seen in 60 years is threatening to destroy that nation’s farms. The insatiable insects now cover a territory the size of Delaware, and authorities are warning that exterminating the brood is no longer possible.
“It’s impossible to eradicate; the plague has already established itself,” Diego Quiroga, chief of vegetative protection for Senasa, Argentina’s agricultural agency, told the New York Times. “We’re just acting to make sure it’s the smallest it can be and does the least damage possible.”
Argentina, like much of the world, has been experiencing warmer and wetter summers due in part to climate change. These conditions provide ideal breeding grounds for locusts. The swarms in Argentina mirror a worldwide trend of increased challenges from agricultural pests that benefit from the climate upheaval. Locusts stripped Madagascar bare in 2013, for instance.
The past few seasons have seen increases in destructive insects. Last year, before the plague became as severe as it is now, locusts would appear in clouds 4 miles long and 2 miles high, descending on cropland for massive feeding frenzies. These previous encounters suggest to some farmers that the national government should have known the plague was coming and could have taken greater steps to confront the mounting threat.
A single square mile of a locust swarm would contain 40 to 80 million locusts, each of which might eat up to its body weight in food every day.
The main agricultural agency Senasa has sent fumigators into the dense forests that offer comfortable breeding grounds for the locust, and officials report eradicating 66 pockets of young locusts before they gained the ability to fly. Despite the productive measures, the forests are largely impassable, and many new swarms are presumably taking flight every day, adding new numbers to an almost incalculable challenge.
Senasa has set up a hotline for farmers to report locust swarms, and lawmakers in Buenos Aires are outdoing themselves describing the potential damage a mass plague could reap on the agricultural industry in the north. Meanwhile, it takes 10 days for a locust larvae to reach adulthood and take flight. Tick, tock.