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Fight against locust swarms in Africa at critical phase – UN agency

Fight against locust swarms in Africa at critical phase – UN agency

A locust swarm
The fight to contain the swarms of locusts devouring pastures and cropland across West Africa has entered a critical phase, the United Nations agriculture agency said today, with extra aircraft arriving to spray pesticides as the number of affected countries swells.

An injection of funds from donors in the past month has allowed the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to bring in six fixed-wing aircraft and four helicopters to join four planes already being used to drop pesticides on the hordes of insects.

Clive Elliott, head of FAO’s Locust Group, said hundreds of thousands of litres of pesticides have been ordered and large quantities have been distributed.

“Operations in the near future will need to switch to the northern parts of the Sahara to protect North African countries,” Mr. Elliott said.

The latest reports indicate that locust swarms have now reached southwest Libya, southern Algeria and the borders of Morocco, joining a dozen other countries across West Africa that have been affected.

Locusts have devoured an estimated 3 million to 4 million hectares of land since the start of this year, with swarms as large as 70 kilometres long in some instances.

But the arrival of extra funds has allowed the FAO to step up its pesticide treatment campaign, with about 875,000 hectares of infested land now treated, compared to about 500,000 hectares last month.

The agency issued an emergency call for help last month after it had received just $2 million of the $100 million needed to conduct its anti-locust programmes. Donors have since responded, and as of yesterday $20 million has been received, another $38 million pledged. For its part, FAO has contributed a further $6 million of its own funds. Negotiations are continuing to raise more funds.