Social sciences

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Representation of the locust social-ecological-technical system (SETS). Click the symbols inside one of the circles to explore the theme.

The study of locusts and grasshoppers from a social sciences perspective offers valuable insights into the socio-economic, cultural, and psychological dimensions of human interactions with these insects. Social scientists examine how locust outbreaks and grasshopper outbreaks influence human societies and communities. They investigate the socio-economic impacts on agricultural practices, food security, and rural livelihoods, exploring the ways in which these events can lead to governance failures (or successes), economic losses, crop failures, and food shortages. Social scientists also analyze the cultural significance of locusts and grasshoppers in different societies, studying folklore, traditional beliefs, and practices associated with these insects. Additionally, they delve into the psychological and emotional aspects of human perceptions and responses to locust and grasshopper infestations, studying the fears, values, beliefs, norms, and perspectives of affected communities and other stakeholders. By integrating the social sciences with entomological research, a comprehensive understanding of locust and grasshopper dynamics can be achieved, enabling the development of more holistic and contextually relevant strategies for managing and mitigating their impact on human well-being and societal systems.


Although locust management involves a multitude of social elements, locust research has historically centered around the natural sciences. It has become evident that the sustainability of locust management systems is profoundly influenced and limited by multifaceted factors such as social, economic, organizational, and cultural dimensions.[1] Numerous scholars have advocated for stronger integration of social sciences within locust research, especially focusing on stakeholder strategies, governance issues, and the investigation of innovative methods for cohabiting and engaging with locusts. [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [1] [14] [12] [1]

Social science and locust management

Insights from the social sciences have enhanced our comprehension of both locust management strategies and the repercussions of locust outbreaks.[2] Researchers have conducted socio-economic investigations to assess how locust swarms affect people's livelihoods.[15] A significant portion of these studies concentrate on quantifying outbreak impacts by assessing the expenses of control measures and the extent of prevented crop damage. [16] [17]

Providing data solely on the number of crops saved through control efforts often offers a narrow perspective of success, overlooking the impact of other socio-economic factors like displacement, resource shortages, or the adverse effects of pesticide use on both the environment and human health.[2] The field of social science can aid in identifying the immeasurable values such as the significance of cultural traditions, the toll of physical and psychological human distress, and the lasting adverse impacts on the environment, child development, and educational achievements [18] that cannot be easily translated into standard units for quantitative assessments.

For example, a study in Mali looked at the long-term impact of the locust invasion between 1987 and 1989.[18] Using census data, they compared the educational outcomes of children in locust-affected regions with those in unaffected areas. They found a significant decrease in school enrollment among rural children, particularly those born during the peak years of the invasion (1988-1989), while no discernible impact was detected among their urban counterparts. Moreover, while the adverse effect on school enrollment was more pronounced for boys than girls, girls residing in rural areas exhibited lower levels of educational attainment relative to boys.

Strengths and challenges of social science research

Social science could facilitate a more profound comprehension of the institution of locust management and research, particularly the paradoxical challenge of establishing sustained collective efforts amid temporal and spatial uncertainties. There are often long periods of time between outbreaks that can lead to the loss of expertise and capacity or even the belief that an outbreak will likely occur. Spatially, outbreak locations and invasion areas can be uncertain. In recent studies of locust management through the lens of social sciences, attention has been drawn to the strategies adopted by locust managers to confront these obstacles, along with the vulnerabilities linked to these approaches. [1] [19] See the vicious cycle of locust outbreaks for more on this theme.

The translation of quantitative research into improved and more efficient monitoring and management of locusts is not always straightforward, mainly due to two fundamental challenges.[2] Firstly, managing locusts is inherently a collective action predicament, as neither individual farmers nor single countries can effectively handle the issue alone due to migratory patterns and the spillover effects onto others' territories. Secondly, addressing this collective action problem is complicated by the potential for free-riding, where individuals or entities benefit from collective efforts without contributing adequately. Moreover, practical locust management faces barriers like: 1) the extensive scope of the issue and the inherent spatial uncertainty, making it challenging to establish trust, a shared vision, and coordinated action; and 2) either infrequent but persistent damage patterns or sporadic but widespread damage patterns. Both scenarios hinder the willingness to invest in an efficient preventive system over time. The dilemma lies in the uncertainty of investing in a solution for a problem that might not emerge, or even confirming the existence of the problem itself. Management approaches can encounter obstacles when researchers studying locusts are often physically distant from the natural locust populations. This geographical separation can pose difficulties in grasping essential contextual factors that influence locust behavior, management interventions, and their variations over time and space. [2] Further complicating matters, disparities in interests among scientists, farmers, and other stakeholders can arise, occasionally leading to contentious disagreements between the strategies pursued by plant protection agencies and local traditions, beliefs, and values. [20] As observed, efforts to manage landscapes for improved social control of locusts, benefiting all parties, can occasionally entail trade-offs for certain individual farmers.

Engaging in qualitative research that delves into the human aspects of locust management concerns could potentially bridge the divide in regions where such tensions are experienced. For example, when an outbreak occurs, certain farmers may desire rapid and repetitive pesticide spraying by plant protection agencies where some may opt against chemical treatments altogether due to religious convictions see locusts in Zanskar.[20] Qualitative research could be critical for broadening the array of narratives concerning people's interactions with locusts and highlight the diversity of perspectives and underscores that a uniform "spray and suppress" management strategy isn't the sole approach. Specific communities might opt to acquire or impart alternative techniques that diverge from viewing locusts solely as pests. Instead, they may transform locusts into sources of income, sustenance, animal fodder, fertilizer, or even devise non-destructive mechanisms for insurance and safety nets that emerge to manage the intermittent presence of locusts.


Organization Acronym Website Type Focus Focus keywords Geographic purview
Global Locust Initiative GLI View URL University Research, Education, Information Hub
Sustainable Development, Ecology, Nutrition, Social science, Natural sciences, Agriculture, Agroecology, Biology, Behavior, Biological Control, Climate Change, Education, Sustainability Science, Geometric Framework, Grazing, Governance, Food Security, Arts and humanities, Land Use Management, Landscape Ecology, Locusts, Migration, Phase Polyphenism, Phenotypic Plasticity, Soil Science

Articles about social science


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Therville C, Anderies JM, Lecoq M, Cease A (2021) Locusts and People: Integrating the Social Sciences in Sustainable Locust Management. Agronomy 11: 951.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Word Ries M, Adriaansen C, Aldobai S, Berry K, Bal AB, Catenaccio MC, Cigliano MM, Cullen DA, Deveson T, Diongue A, Foquet B, Hadrich J, Hunter D, Johnson DL, Pablo Karnatz J, Lange CE, Lawton D, Lazar M, Latchininsky AV, Lecoq M, Le Gall M, Lockwood J, Manneh B, Overson R, Peterson BF, Piou C, Poot-Pech MA, Robinson BE, Rogers SM, Song H, Springate S, Therville C, Trumper E, Waters C, Woller DA, Youngblood JP, Zhang L, Cease A (2024) Global perspectives and transdisciplinary opportunities for locust and grasshopper pest management and research. Journal of Orthoptera Research 33(2): 169–216. doi:10.3897/jor.33.112803.
  3. Lecoq M (2001) Recent progress in desert and migratory locust management in Africa. Are preventative actions possible? Journal of Orthoptera Research 10: 277–291.[0277:RPIDAM]2.0.CO;2
  4. Lecoq M (2005) Desert locust management: from ecology to anthropology. Journal of Orthoptera Research 14:179–186.[179:DLMFET]2.0.CO;2
  5. Lockwood JA, Showler AT, Latchininsky AV (2001) Can we make locust and grasshopper management sustainable? Journal of Orthoptera Research 10: 315–329.[0315:CWMLAG]2.0.CO;2
  6. Showler AT (2003) The importance of armed conflict to desert locust control, 1986–2002. Journal of Orthoptera Research 12: 127–133.
  7. Belayneh YT (2005) Acridid pest management in the developing world: a challenge to the rural population, a dilemma to the international community. Journal of Orthoptera Research 14: 187–195.[187:APMITD]2.0.CO;288
  8. Van Huis A, Cressman K, Magor JI (2007) Preventing desert locust plagues: optimizing management interventions. Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata 122: 191–214.
  9. Symmons P (2009) A critique of “Preventive control and desert locust plagues.” Crop Protection 28: 905–907.
  10. Zhang L, Lecoq M, Latchininsky A, Hunter D (2019) Locust and grasshopper management. Annual Review of Entomology 64: 15–34.
  11. Meynard CN, Lecoq M, Chapuis M, Piou C (2020) On the relative role of climate change and management in the current desert locust outbreak in East Africa. Global Change Biology 26: 3753–3755.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Lockwood JA, Sardo MC (2021) A swarm of injustice: a sociopolitical framework for global justice in the management of the desert locust. Agronomy 11: 386.
  13. Showler AT, Ould Babah Ebbe MA, Lecoq M, Maeno KO (2021) Early Intervention against Desert Locusts: Current Proactive Approach and the Prospect of Sustainable Outbreak Prevention. Agronomy 11: 312.
  14. Cease AJ, Elser JJ, Fenichel EP, Hadrich JC, Harrison JF, Robinson BE (2015) Living with locusts: connecting soil nitrogen, locust outbreaks, livelihoods, and livestock markets. BioScience 65: 551–558.
  15. Crook DR, Robinson BE, Li P (2020) The impact of snowstorms, droughts and locust outbreaks on livestock production in Inner Mongolia: anticipation and adaptation to environmental shocks. Ecological Economics 177: 106761.
  16. U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (1990). A Plague of Locusts; Special Report, OTA-F-450; Government Printing Office: Washington, DC, USA. Available online: (accessed on 21 April 2023).
  17. Joffe S (1998) Economics and Policy Issues in Desert Locust Management: A Preliminary Analysis; Report no. AGPP/DL/TSD/27; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Rome, Italy; 108p. Available online: (accessed on 7 August 2021).
  18. 18.0 18.1 De Vreyer P, Guilbert N, Mesple-Somps S (2015) Impact of natural disasters on education outcomes: evidence from the 1987–89 locust plague in Mali. Journal of African Economies 24: 57–100.
  19. Korinth H (2022) Multi-level Governance of Transboundary Pests: Crisis as An Opportunity for Learning? The Case of the 2019-2022 Desert Locust Outbreak in East Africa. Master thesis in International Development studies, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands. 117 pp.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Gagné K (2022) Of Locust and Humans: Living with Agricultural Pests in Zanskar [recorded presentation] Yale School for the Environment.