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Will the Desert Locust strike again?
New infestations detected in northwest Mauritania
11 October 2006, Rome – Important Desert Locust infestations recently detected in northwest Mauritania have prompted the FAO Locust Group to warn the national locust centres in Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal and other countries to increase the level of alert against a potential Desert Locust threat in West and North Africa.

The new infestations probably originated from undetected breeding that occurred during the past two months in Mauritania or perhaps in adjacent areas of northwest Mali, according to FAO experts.

Locust adults are now present in areas of recent rainfall about 150 km northeast of Nouakchott where they are concentrating in green vegetation. Field teams report that the adults are becoming increasingly gregarious and are laying eggs.

The eggs are expected to hatch in about ten days. Surveys are currently in progress in summer breeding areas in southern and central Mauritania, northern Niger and in the southern parts of Morocco and Algeria.

The FAO Locust Group is in continuous contact with the national locust authorities and FAO field experts regarding the situation and is advising on steps that should be taken to prevent a Desert Locust upsurge if favourable weather and ecological conditions continue.

Mauritania is mobilizing additional ground survey teams to the northwest to check all suspected areas. FAO is arranging for a helicopter that should arrive in Mauritania next week to survey larger areas once the eggs hatch. Ground teams started control operations on 9 October and have so far treated more than 300 ha of infestations. A military spray aircraft is also on standby.

Morocco has also responded to the alert this week by launching survey operations in adjacent areas in the Sahara region where so far only isolated locusts have been reported by the military.

In 2004, a Desert Locust upsurge caused heavy damage to agriculture in several parts of West Africa. Numerous swarms invaded the Sahelian countries from northwest Africa during the summer of 2004 and devastated crops, fruit trees and vegetation.

Affected countries, the international community, and FAO spent more than US$400 million to fight the worst locust upsurge in 15 years and deal with its aftermath. By summer of 2005, the upsurge had ended by a combination of control operations and unfavourable weather.

Experimenting alternatives

According to FAO's Assistant Director-General, Officer-in-Charge of the Agriculture Department, Alexander Müller, “the current situation is an opportunity to field test environmentally friendly alternatives to conventional pesticides.” He indicated that an FAO expert was already present in northwest Mauritania to organize field trials of an environmentally friendly biopesticide that could be a powerful weapon against Desert Locusts.

The new control method uses a natural fungus, called Metarhizium anisopliae, which infects locust hoppers in such a way that they stop feeding and die in one to three weeks.

It is expected that the current level of resources in Mauritania (pesticides, equipment, staff) will be sufficient to address the current situation. Whether external assistance will be needed will depend on how the situation develops during the next couple of months.

FAO's Desert Locust Information Service regularly produces bulletins, forecasts and updates on the locust situation in countries at risk based on reports received from locust-affected countries and using other sources of information, including satellite images and historical data.

During locust emergencies, FAO informs the international community about the locust situation, launches aid appeals, facilitates international assistance, and where requested, procures pesticides, equipment such as sprayers, protective clothing, and flying hours.
FAO provides technical advice to affected countries on control operations including the protection of human health and the environment.

The most up-to-date information on the Desert Locust situation is available on the FAO Locust Watch web site: http://www.fao.org/ag/locusts.

Contact:
Pierre Antonios
Media Relations, FAO
pierre.antonios@fao.org
(+39) 06 570 53473
(+39) 348 252 3807

Contact:

Pierre Antonios
Media Relations, FAO
pierre.antonios@fao.org
(+39) 06 570 53473
(+39) 348 252 3807

FAO/G. Diana

Desert Locusts are particularly voracious.

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Will the Desert Locust strike again?
New infestations detected in northwest Mauritania
11 October 2006 – Important Desert Locust infestations recently detected in northwest Mauritania have prompted the FAO Locust Group to warn several countries to increase the level of alert against a potential Desert Locust threat in West and North Africa.
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