Somali herders helpless against locusts devouring grasslands

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(ERGO) – Villagers in central Somalia have been banging tins, shooting guns, and praying to try to ward off swarms of voracious locusts eating their way through vast tracts of precious grazing land.

“They come like clouds of smoke filling the air,” said Omar Barre Mohamed, a pastoralist living in Dhusamareb district of Galgadud.

“They land on the pasture, and within 20 minutes they have cleared every bit of vegetation in the area.”

Omar and his family and their neighbours had to move out of their village of Las-hadow village, 25 km outside Dhusamareb town, to Borre and Ber-Abdifarah that have not yet been invaded by the locusts.

The locusts engulfed the water pumping motor in Las-hadow so people could not access it and swarmed thickly around the whole areas where the families were living.

The family lost 250 goats and 20 camels during the previous five years of extreme cyclical drought. The recent deyr rainfall was a blessing as it filled the reservoirs and enabled the grass to start growing as livestock fodder. He is desperate to keep his remaining 75 goats and 12 camels alive.

But the rain also brought locusts, which have spread across Galgadud’s Dhusamareb, Adado, Abudwaq, Balanbale, Galinsor and Guriel districts.

Villagers in Las-hadow tried beating tins to ward off the insects but the swarms were so thick –and even noisier than the drumming – that the animals ran away in fear.

“When they are flying the locusts make a loud buzzing sound.  At first we saw just a small number, as if they arrived here as an advance team. But by the time the locusts came in large numbers, the noise scared off the goats and camels,” Omar told Radio Ergo.

In the neighbouring region of Hiran, frustrated villagers have also experienced locust invasions they are powerless to control.

Abdi Abdulahi Farah told Radio Ergo that his family and livestock were not able to move away from Gelijir village because there was water there, but an estimated 40 square kilometres of grazing land had been stripped clean by locusts that arrived on 30 October.

“We recited the Koran and beat tins because we don’t have any other means,” Abdi said.

Mahdi Abdi Hussein, in Marodile village 40 km from Guriel, said he fainted from exhaustion after trying in vain to get rid of the insects.

“Everybody started chasing away the locusts. We have been beating tins the whole day. Some people even fired bullets in the air to scare the insects away!” he told Radio Ergo.

Said Mohamed Adde and his family fled Miro-Owl after locusts stripped the trees clean.

“First the locusts eat all the leaves on the trees and shrubs and then they break off the small branches and eat them. They eat everything,” he said.

Abdikarim Hassan Mohamed, an environmentalist, says locusts are capable of destroying 50 km of grazing land within an hour. They leave behind eggs which hatch later, causing more problems.

He said it is very hard for local communities to combat the locusts but urged them to use smoke and beat drums to drive them off before they invade an area.

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