Narrow window of opportunity opens to avert potential Africa locust plague - UN

30 November 2004
Locusts devouring a tree in northern Senegal

The period between now and the end of February is crucial for a well coordinated locust control campaign to protect crops in North Africa and reduce the risk of swarms reinvading sub-Saharan countries next summer in the worst upsurge of the scourge in 15 years, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said today.

“Every effort must be made now to prepare for a potential re-infestation in West Africa next summer," FAO Plant Production and Protection Division Director Mahmoud Solh said on the occasion of an extraordinary session of the agency’s 40-nation Desert Locust Control Committee.

Representatives of locust affected countries and donors are meeting in Rome this week to review the lessons learnt from this year's locust campaign and to discuss future control activities. FAO has warned that the current infestation is potentially worse than the last plague of 1987-89, which cost the international community $300 million.

Donors have pledged $70 million for locust control activities primarily in the Sahel on the southern doorstep of the Sahara. Affected North African Maghreb countries are also in need of international support for their control campaigns, FAO said.

Swarms that escaped spraying in the Sahel have moved rapidly to the Maghreb countries, it added and intensive control operations are under way in Morocco, Algeria and western Libya.

A substantial number of immature swarms could become trapped in the coming weeks in the Atlas Mountains and valleys in Morocco and Algeria. Swarms will mature and lay eggs in March when temperatures warm up. This gives control teams at least three months to treat as many swarms as possible before they are ready to lay eggs.

The success of the control campaign will heavily depend on weather conditions, Mr. Solh said. A lack of rain, for example, in combination with intensive control operations, could break the cycle of locust development.

FAO is helping affected countries to develop detailed contingency plans for a 2005 summer campaign, taking steps to recruit technical specialists in the areas of data management, control, survey, logistics, environmental and human health monitoring for many Sahelian countries.

The agency hopes that large scale field trials of environmentally friendly bio-pesticides will be completed before next summer and that some of these products can be used in future control campaigns.


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