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Locusts threaten Afghan wheat harvest; FAO acts to protect the crop

Locusts threaten Afghan wheat harvest; FAO acts to protect the crop

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today it was mobilizing a major campaign to combat what may be the worst locust outbreak to hit Afghanistan in 30 years.

An infestation of Moroccan locust (dociostaurus maroccanus) threatens the wheat harvest in northern Afghanistan, just as the country is struggling to recover from years of war and deprivation, FAO said in a statement released in Rome. The 30-40 day emergency campaign aims to limit crop damage to the lowest possible level until the harvest is well under way, when the threat will pretty much be over.

So far, the campaign has yielded encouraging results, according to the agency. As of 4 May, 21,000 hectares of land had been treated with chemicals and another 81,000 hectares using a mechanical method, by which villagers dig ditches around recently hatched pods and chase the locusts into the ditches, burying them. Infestations have been reported in nine provinces.

Despite the difficulties posed by mountainous terrain, FAO is reporting progress in meeting its objectives, with only few reports of damage received so far. When the emergency campaign is completed, it will give way to a medium-term plan aimed at prevention through the use of even more environmentally benign materials.

The locust control campaign is being financed by FAO from its own resources, with major contributions from the US Agency for International Development and the British Department for International Development. Its efforts are supported by several NGOs, including the Irish NGO "Goal", which is backed by the European Commission.