New ways to tackle locusts
Research targets biological controls
Agadir, Morocco - In the laboratories of the National Centre for Locust Control in this busy port city, seven full-time researchers try to unlock the mystery of the desert locust and how to control it without harming human or environmental health.
The work goes on year after year, during long periods of locust recession and during upsurges and plagues, when other staff are busy fighting the invasion.
"We have made progress over the years," says Moha Bagari, Chief of Research. "We know more about the insect now, about how upsurges evolve and about different invasion corridors. We understand their biology better."
The Centre is testing biological control agents, made from plants that repel the locust or have a negative impact on their development.
"There are plants that make the insects sick by interfering with their digestive and reproductive tracts," Bagari says. (FAO and other countries are actively seeking a safer replacement for conventional pesticides by testing a fungus that attacks locusts in the field and a natural hormone that disrupts the insects' normal behaviour.)
In Morocco, soil samples from lands sprayed with the organophosphate insecticides used in the current campaign are being tested in labs around the country. Results are pending.
A hand-held device that indicates within a few metres exact longitude and latitude has revolutionized the locust business in the last 20 years. The global positioning system (GPS) allows survey teams deep in the featureless desert to report the precise position of locust sightings.
Experts in locust-affected countries and in FAO's Locust Group plot and compare the locusts' exact locations with similarly georeferenced satellite images of weather, cloud cover and vegetation and historical data to try to forecast locust activity. FAO puts out a monthly Desert Locust Bulletin based on this analysis, supplemented by updates and warnings.
Spraying accuracy has improved too. Survey teams radio in exact positions of swarms, and pilots use the coordinates on their onboard GPSs to ensure pinpoint treatment of the insects.
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