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UN agency boosts anti-locust efforts in West Africa thanks to extra funding

UN agency boosts anti-locust efforts in West Africa thanks to extra funding

Desert locusts are particularly voracious
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) has stepped up its efforts to control the swarms of crop-devouring desert locusts across West Africa after donors responded to the agency’s urgent appeal for more funds by giving $10 million in the past two weeks.

Since FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf issued his appeal on 17 September, donors have handed over $14.7 million in cash, up from $4 million previously, while another $40 million has also been pledged.

FAO is now assisting 13 nations to fight the locusts, which have infested an estimated 3 million to 4 million hectares of land across West Africa since the middle of this year.

Driven by dry season winds, many of the insects are travelling large distances to find fresh vegetation, threatening what had been anticipated as bumper grain harvests for much of the region.

Clive Elliott, a senior officer with FAO's Locust Group, said some countries are still facing serious shortages of pesticides and aircraft, despite the funding surge. "More support is urgently needed to protect crops and pasture and extend locust control activities, in particular transport and spraying planes, but also helicopters," he said.

Mali, Niger and Senegal are the worst-affected by the locust plagues, but the problem stretches from some of Cape Verde's islands - hundreds of kilometres into the Atlantic Ocean - in the west to as far east as Sudan, Eritrea and Yemen. One swarm in northwest Mauritania is reportedly 70 kilometres long.

With the help of FAO, national authorities have so far treated almost 500,000 hectares with pesticides that have been chosen to make sure they are legally registered in each country.

The agency said some of the funds are also being used to buy communications equipment to help track the swarm, as well as protective clothing to help those dealing directly with the locusts.